WASHINGTON — Asylum seekers fleeing domestic or gang violence need not apply for protection in the United States, said the country’s top law enforcement official at a June 11 news conference explaining why he reversed an immigration court’s decision that granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she had been abused by her husband.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that while a person may suffer threats of violence in another country, “for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances,” U.S. asylum laws cannot be used to remedy “all misfortune.”
Various organizations, including some Catholic groups, quickly condemned the attorney general’s ruling.
“No longer will the United States of America welcome and protect our vulnerable and abused brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution and brutality,” said Lawrence E. Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
Couch said in a statement that Sessions’ decision was “inherently hostile and cruel.”
“I believe that the American people are a hopeful and welcoming people, but our government is out of sync with our values. The soul of our nation is being tested,” he said.
Last year, in remarks posted on the Department of Justice’s website Oct. 12, 2017, Sessions insinuated that an influx of people was entering the country on false asylum grounds, and said there was “rampant abuse and fraud.”
Sessions made clear in June that violent threats were not enough to be granted asylum, even if a country’s authorities could not help victims.
The ruling could affect adults and children coming from what’s known as the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — a region plagued by gang violence, drug trafficking and other social ailments causing people to flee because authorities cannot control the violence nor guarantee safety.
“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” Sessions said in the decision.
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said Sessions’ ruling “sets a dangerous precedent for other victims of violence, including those who are targeted for their religious beliefs.”
Asylum law, she said, “has long recognized that persecution can occur at the hands of entities that a national government is ‘unable or unwilling to control’ including by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Tamil Tigers.”
But that’s exactly what Sessions says in the ruling, she pointed out, when he says that “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”