June 15, 2018
[Content Warning: Domestic violence]
On Monday, June 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a rarely utilized power to reverse a Board of Immigration Appeals decision in Matter of A-B- and reject the asylum claim of a woman fleeing 15 years of extreme domestic violence in El Salvador. This decision will have profound negative effects on women seeking protection in the US based on domestic violence in their home countries, as well as minors fleeing persecution from gangs – both of which have been firmly upheld by immigration courts since 2014 as legitimate grounds for asylum.
OneJustice firmly opposes this sweeping move to deny asylum seekers the opportunity to seek safety in the United States.
The woman in Matter of A-B- was brutally beaten (including while pregnant), bashed into walls, and threatened with death at knife and gun point, with no relief from law enforcement. And her abuse did not occur in isolation. Violence against women in El Salvador is extreme – the country sees the highest rates of femicide in the world, with over 500 women murdered (1 in 5,000) in 2016.
Likewise, it is well documented that the majority of those fleeing persecution from gangs in Central America are women and children. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that “gangs routinely threaten and recruit children as young as five or 6.” Many of these children are often offered a horrifying choice: join the gang, or be killed.
Yet these facts and the facts of the case in Matter of A-B- were ignored by the Attorney General, who stated that asylum claims “pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence” should “generally” not be approved. This statement is wide-sweeping and will immediately impact the decisions of asylum adjudicators around the country. It represents an attack not only on refugees seeking protection, but specifically an attack on women and children fleeing violence.
To be clear, seeking asylum from violence is a human right recognized by both international and US domestic law. Moreover, those with valid claims to asylum (in other words, those who are fleeing persecution for one of five reasons) cannot be punished for entering the country illegally. Prior to this decision, immigration courts had long recognized the real threat facing people fleeing their homes in Central America – as well as the threat of violence should they return. The Attorney General’s claim that this decision somehow restores previously “[abandoned] legal discipline and sound legal concepts” is flatly wrong.
Despite the Attorney General’s decision, domestic violence survivors and survivors of gang persecution who meet the legal requirements for asylum must still be provided a fair opportunity to present their individual claims. OneJustice will be tracking the impact of this recent decision and strategically intervening to push back against Sessions’ erroneous and harmful interpretation of the law and support organizations and communities fighting for justice on the ground.
You can stand up for the rights of refugees!
As an attorney, you can represent a woman seeking asylum – including through the following resources:
- CLINIC’s BIA Pro Bono Appeals Project
- Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project’s Pro Bono Program
- Santa Fe Dreamers Project (or email Allegra Love at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Immigration Advocates Network Pro Bono Resource Volunteer Guide
- CARA Family Detention Project
- SouthEast Immigrant Freedom Initiative
- Or check with your local immigration services providers
As an individual, you can ensure that our policymakers understand the basic principles that underpin American laws and take action to protect the basic human rights of all on US soil. You can also lend your financial support to organizations working to ensure the basic rights of immigrants, and to represent men, women and children in deportation proceedings, including:
- Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, UC Hastings
- Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)
- Tahirih Justice Center
- United We Dream
Interested in providing pro bono help for immigrants and their families across the state?
Sign up for OneJustice’s Immigration Pro Bono Network to receive volunteer opportunities and immigration updates!