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Should the U.S. Protect the Right to Seek Asylum for Domestic Violence?

Should the U.S. Protect the Right to Seek Asylum for Domestic Violence?

The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (or CGRS) and Human Rights Watch have issued a joint statement urging the U.S. to protect refugees right to seek asylum under domestic violence claims.

In December of 2018, a federal judge admonished the Trump administration’s efforts to reverse this policy, following actions by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. After a woman known only by the initials “A.B.” attempted to seek asylum, Sessions and the Trump administration tried to impose an overall ban on any claims related to domestic violence. A lawsuit by CGRS and the American Civil Liberties Union (or ACLU) was able to stop the ban, after U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.C. District Court for Columbia ruled in favor of domestic violence survivors. In Grace v. Whitaker, Sullivan struck down Sessions’ decision, writing that there is “no legal basis for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims.”

Yet in spite Sullivan’s decision, the cases of A.B. and many other women seeking protection from domestic violence remain undecided. “Ms. A.B. suffered brutal physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and every time she sought protection from the Salvadoran authorities, the police would not protect her,” stated Karen Musalo, one of the woman’s attorneys at CGRS. “In denying her asylum, the former attorney general not only overturned clearly established case law recognizing the right to asylum for survivors of domestic violence, but also repudiated the well-accepted principle that women’s rights are human rights.”

To claim asylum, a person must demonstrate reasonable fear and present significant evidence that continuing to live in their country of origin presents an active danger to their well-being and safety. This fear is to be based in race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Under the Obama administration, domestic violence victims were able to qualify as members of a particular social group. Attorney General Sessions’ actions in Ms. A.B.’s case bypassed the ruling in the Board of Immigration Appeals’ 2014 case, Matter of A-R-C-G-, which first established that refugees had the right to seek asylum because of domestic violence.

While the standards of international law dictate that domestic violence survivors should be protected under their government, there are many countries in which these standards are not enforced. In Central America, particularly, as well as many other parts of the world, there are not enough specific laws to address domestic violence issues, or authorities fail to enforce existing laws despite rates of domestic violence remaining high. “This is absolutely the case in El Salvador, where the government’s utter failure to protect Ms. A.B. forced her to flee for her life,” claims Andrés López, the woman’s co-counsel.

Although the Trump Administration’s failure to address asylum as a domestic rights issue is a shift from Obama-era policy, it is in line with a larger failure to recognize domestic violence against women as a chief human rights concern. Since 2017, the State Department has left domestic violence statistics out of its human rights reports, in addition to statistics on female health and reproductive care.

“The Trump administration’s fallacious view that domestic violence is a matter between private actors fails to recognize the systemic abuse of women’s rights in countries where authorities cannot or do not protect women threatened with domestic violence,” according to Grace Meng, a senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The serious and persistent problem of domestic violence cannot be eliminated unless the US and other countries recognize domestic violence, and the related acts or omissions of the government, as violations of women’s basic human rights.”

Human Rights Watch and CGRS are demanding that the incoming United States Attorney General reverse the initial policy of Sessions and the Trump administration. If no action is taken by the Attorney General, they are pushing congress to draft legislation to protect the rights of domestic violence victims seeking asylum.

"The asylum ban was not justified by the events on the ground, it puts lives in danger and it is clearly illegal," said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU. "The administration blatantly ignored a federal statute and circumvented the most basic procedural requirements that govern the issuance of new laws."

Human Rights Watch and CGRS are not alone in their calls for domestic violence to be recognized as a justification to seek asylum. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (or USCIS) recently released new guidelines, stating that it is fair for individuals fleeing gang violence or domestic violence to seek asylum, contradicting the ruling by Sessions and the Trump administration. According USCIS, there is no one rule that can apply to every asylum-seeker, and each case must be judged on its own merits. "In assessing whether the applicant has established credibility of fear of persecution, asylum officers can not require the applicant to formulate or delineate a particular group society," the new guidelines state.  

As Selena Rivera at Hoy Los Angeles points out, according to Department of Justice reports cited in the Federal Register, roughly 89% of asylum-seekers in the least year were found to have credible fears. This is up 77% from 10 years ago, in 2008. Yet only around 6,000 immigrants were able to complete the asylum process in 2018.

Musa-Obregon Law PC: Standing With Immigrants, Standing With Asylum-Seekers, Standing With Human Rights

At Musa-Obregon Law PC, our Queens immigration attorneys believe in the right to seek asylum. Whether out of political strife, religious oppression, or fear of domestic violence, our firm is here to stand up for those who come to this country seeking a better life. That’s why we provide a range of legal services, from asylum claims to motions to vacate. Our team is here to provide compassionate and tenacious representation when you need it the most. Call Musa-Obregon Law PC today, and hire an immigration lawyer who while fight to help you achieve the American dream.

Dial (888) 502-8461 to speak to an attorney, or contact us online to request a consultation.


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