U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided Monday to strip immigrant women, members of the LGBT community, and children of the protection of asylum if they are the victims of domestic violence. While the media is portraying this as the end of asylum, you should know that this is only the beginning of what will be a long process of righting the wrongs perpetrated by Sessions.
The case concerns a Salvadoran woman, named as “A-B-” in the decision, who was the victim of repeated domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2016, the highest administrative immigration court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), overturned a lower court judge’s decision that A-B- did not qualify for asylum. In March of this year, Sessions took on the case to make his own ruling.
The law allows the attorney general to make administrative decisions in immigration cases and to overrule the decisions of immigration judges and the BIA. While the attorney general has this power, it is very rarely used. When it is used, it is often to overturn an outdated precedent. In the case of A-B-, none of the normal reasons for the attorney general to issue a decision apply. The BIA’s decision in A-B- was not an outlier, it fit in with the courts’ evolving views on gender that have been prevalent since the 1990s.
Former BIA legal advisor Jeff Chase noted even before the decision was rendered that Sessions taking the case now is evidence of tone-deaf timing by the Trump administration. He writes:
Sessions is choosing, unprompted, to challenge whether victims of domestic violence are deserving of asylum just as our society has undertaken a powerful, long-overdue, and much needed correction in the form of the #metoo movement. Many hundreds of thousands of us (“us” of course referring to people regardless of gender, as women’s rights are human rights) have filled the streets of cities all over America (and the world) the past two Januarys in a powerful, emotional rebuke to sexual assault and all forms of sexism. Powerful men who for years had engaged in all forms of sexual abuse and harassment are for the first time experiencing the consequences of their actions. And it is at this particular time that Sessions seeks to revoke protection to women who are domestic violence victims?
In this sense, this asylum case is part of a broader counter-offensive by Sessions and Trump against women’s integrity. Sessions said that A-B- reported suffering “vile abuse,” but that such abuse against a woman by her husband could not be a basis for asylum. Since A-B- was not merely saying that she was a victim of domestic violence, but also that the police and government ignored the violence and tacitly approved of it, Sessions placed the United States Department of Justice on the side of injustice.
“Attorney General Sessions is re-victimizing people fleeing sexual and domestic violence by further calling their claims into question. As the top law enforcement official in the United States he should be more concerned with ending violence against women rather than criminalizing the victims. We will work with our Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) partners to fight back against this most recent attack on the integrity of our legal system and international obligations,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
The attorney general’s word is not final. The case will now go to the United States Court of Appeals.