US cracks down on asylum seekers fleeing gangs, violence
The Trump administration has moved to make victims of domestic and gang violence ineligible to qualify for asylum in the United States leaving hundreds of thousands of people – mainly from Central America – at risk of deportation.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement this week reversing a previous interpretation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) put in place to protect victims of domestic abuse.
Under the new policy, asylum will only be granted to individuals who leave their home country because of credible fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, social or political affiliations.
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote in his decision.
Speaking to a group of immigration judges in Washington, D.C., Mr Sessions said the US’ asylum system was “being abused to the detriment of the rule of law”.
He said that credible fear claims have “skyrocketed” in recent years and US immigration courts are overwhelmed with asylum cases.
“Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world,” Mr Sessions said.
The attorney general’s decision will have immediate implications. Asylum officers, who assess claims of credible fear at the border, will not be obligated to process individuals who cite gang violence or domestic violence as their reason for seeking asylum in the United States.
Unless they demand an immigration hearing, those individuals will qualify for expedited removal.
The backlog of immigration court cases is currently over 700,000, more than three times the number of pending cases in 2009.
Democrat politicians and human rights groups have condemned Sessions and warned of dire consequences for individuals fleeing persecution.
“People will suffer brutality and the blood will be on Jeff Sessions’ hands,” Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal told media.
He said that denying asylum protection to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence was “noxious,” “hideous,” and “a betrayal of American values.”
Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley said the Trump administration is trying to “completely change the vision of the United States as a nation that understands people fleeing persecution.”
The American Civil Liberties Union warned the new asylum rule is “effectively a death sentence” for immigrants fleeing dangerous situations. The ACLU argued the U.S. policy is to “slam the doors” on immigrants and asylum-seekers.
Others argued Sessions’ decision to overrule a previous decision on asylum policy was inappropriate and could be challenged in court.
“With the stroke of his pen, Attorney General Sessions is attempting to unilaterally rewrite U.S. asylum law,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of the Human Rights First refugee protection program.
A group of more than a dozen former immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, challenged the decision as “an affront to the rule of law,” saying it overturned a 15-year judicial process that resulted in expanded protections for victims of domestic violence.
The former officials called on the appellate courts or Congress to reverse the decision.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist