Jeff Sessions overturned a prior decision by federal immigration judges that said that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” are eligible for asylum in the United States. NBC News reports that a 2014 case provided the basis for the prior decision. It involved a 2014 case in which a woman from Guatemala who entered the country illegally said she was seeking asylum because her ex-husband frequently “emotionally, physically and sexually” abused her. She said he had raped her and his brother, who was a police officer, had threatened her.
International and U.S. law states that a person can request asylum due to either past persecution or a reasonable fear of future persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Until today, “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” were considered one of those eligible social groups.
In explaining his reasons for removing women in violent relationships from asylum eligibility, Sessions said that women in the group who would have previously been eligible for asylum didn’t fit the requirement that a social group has to have “well defined characteristics that are socially distinct.”
Sessions referred to the woman who sought asylum and explained that his decision does not mean he doesn’t sympathize with the plight of her or other women in violent relationships.
“I do not minimize the vile abuse that the respondent reported she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband or the harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world. I understand that many victims of domestic violence may seek to flee from their home countries to extricate themselves from a dire situation or to give themselves the opportunity for a better life. But the asylum statute is not a general-hardship statute.”
Sessions said that victims of crime may still be granted asylum, but, as reported by the Washington Post, they would have to go through our courts and show that their home government cannot or will not provide them with protection and that it isn’t possible for them to relocate within their home country.
Speaking to the Justice Department earlier in the day, Jeff Sessions reiterated his well-known belief that the asylum system is being exploited and misused, saying it “was never meant to alleviate all problems, even serious problems, that people face every day all over the world.” As evidence of misuse of the system, he noted that there were 5,000 asylum requests in 2009 and 94,000 in 2016. He said that of all the requests for asylum that were made in the last five years, only 20 percent were found to be justified by the claims and situations of those making the requests.