The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is outraged by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to refuse asylum to survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence.
In a 30-page ruling issued Monday, June 11 in the Matter of A-B-, Sessions revoked a previous grant of asylum to a Salvadoran survivor of domestic violence, overthrowing years of legal precedent recognizing intimate partner violence as potential grounds for asylum. In sweeping terms, Sessions declared, “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”
This deplorable ruling means that untold numbers of individuals fleeing spousal abuse, criminal networks, or armed groups are now at greater risk of being returned to the hands of their persecutors. Indeed, the ruling is so broad it could be used to exclude victims of virtually any sort of persecution carried out by non-state actors.
In April, UUSC joined an amicus brief with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) and eight other faith-based organizations calling on Sessions to uphold the Board of Immigration Appeals’ prior ruling. Legal experts submitted 11 additional amicus briefs and roughly 700 pages of documentation in support of the complainant’s case.
Sessions’ decision displays a willful ignorance of the reasons people flee their home countries. Survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence are often left with no choice but to flee when the state has proven unable or unwilling to protect them from persecution and harm. This past year, UUSC’s partner in El Salvador, Fundación Cristosal, filed six cases on behalf of 60 individuals with the Salvadoran Supreme Court, arguing the government had failed in its duty to protect their constitutional rights when they faced violence at the hands of non-state actors. Cristosal has spent years documenting the Salvadoran government’s systemic failure to protect victims of internal displacement by violence.
The ruling also reflects a disturbing trend by the administration to devalue women and LGBTQI individuals, evidenced earlier this year by the removal of critical language on reproductive rights and women’s rights from the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports that Honduras has an estimated 95% impunity rate for crimes against women. UUSC staff met recently with our partner, Foro de Mujeres Por la Vida, who described the structural barriers Honduran women face in obtaining justice or protection from the government, including failure to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable.
For UUSC’s partners throughout Central America who work with people forcibly displaced by criminal networks and domestic violence, Sessions’ decision is a major barrier to their ability to seek protection.
Unfortunately, this ruling merely reinforces the Trump administration’s broader anti-immigrant stance, including the “zero tolerance” policy announced last month, the continued cancellation of Temporary Protected Status for U.S. residents of countries recovering from disaster, and the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. UUSC will continue to resist and find ways to overturn these policies, working to protect the lives and safety of countless vulnerable people who are at risk.