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Attorney General Sessions Again Narrows Avenues for Asylum

New guidance further undermines U.S. asylum system and constitutes yet another assault on the rights of immigrant communities.

By Josh Leach on July 17, 2018

The Trump administration’s new guidance to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers, issued on July 11, further undermines the ability of people fleeing persecution to seek protection and constitutes yet another assault on the rights of immigrant communities of color.

This latest effort to block avenues for asylum takes its cue from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision in Matter of A-B-: a ruling that has already thrown many asylum cases into chaos and threatens to return untold numbers of domestic violence survivors to the hands of their abusers.

As our partners in Central America have documented time and again, governments in the region are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens from gender-based violence or persecution by non-state criminal actors. Deporting asylum-seekers who have fled these forms of violence will in many cases be tantamount to a death sentence.

The guidance concerns the “credible fear” interviews that asylum-seekers must pass before they receive a full adjudication of their asylum claim. These interviews were designed to form an initial determination of an asylum-seekers’ credibility. Until recently nearly eight of ten asylum-seekers passed this stage. By drastically narrowing the grounds of “credible fear,” this guidance leaves asylum-seekers at risk of deportation to danger without the chance to present their case to an immigration judge fully.

Specifically, USCIS officers have been instructed that: “Claims based on … domestic violence or gang violence committed by non-government actors will not establish the basis for asylum, refugee status, or a credible or reasonable fear of persecution.” People fleeing domestic violence or gang persecution currently account for a vast number of the refugees fleeing Central America.

The new guidance also permits USCIS officers to treat a prior charge for unauthorized border crossing as a factor that may “weigh against” an asylum-seeker’s claim. This flies in the face of the spirit and letter of both U.S. law and the UN Refugee Convention, which the United States has bound itself to uphold.

The Immigration and Nationality Act grants the right to apply for asylum to anyone in the United States, regardless of how they entered the country. Similarly, the UN Refugee Convention forbids criminally penalizing asylum-seekers for unauthorized border crossing. The Trump administration has blatantly defied both in implementing its “zero tolerance” policy. To use unjust criminal prosecutions as a basis for evaluating an asylum claim continues the United States’ descent into dismantling asylum protections and enshrining an anti-immigrant agenda.

As our government consistently fails to uphold human rights, UUSC recommits itself to this struggle, draws inspiration from, and is in solidarity with the communities organizing to defend themselves from these unnecessary and heartless attacks.

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