Recently, Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, announced new restrictions on the ability of persons who have suffered from gang violence and domestic violence to have their applications for asylum in the United States approved. This new action from the Trump administration is going to make it so much more difficult for people who have been victims of violence to resettle safely, and may impact thousands of people who have already applied for their asylum on those grounds.
Although the right to asylum has been determined under international law, both US and international law have defined certain categories that persons applying for asylum must prove their circumstances fit into. Those categories involved persecution on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a certain “social group”. Since the meaning of “social group” is so vague, victims of gang and domestic violence have been able to use that category to successfully gain asylum in the US. For example, immigrants from Central and Latin American have used their statuses as “married women unable to legally leave their spouses” as a “social group” category, or men and women not involved with gangs have claimed their status as a “non-gang member” makes them targeted for violence and therefore eligible to resettle in the States.
Now, asylum applicants “must establish membership in a particular and socially distinct group that exists independently of the alleged underlying harm, demonstrate that their persecutors harmed them on account of their membership in that group rather than for personal reasons, and establish that the government protection from such harm in their home country is so lacking that their persecutors’ actions can be attributed to the government,” Sessions wrote.
This is going to make it more difficult on asylum seekers because it places the burden of proof on them. Although Vox notes that certain governments have been known to do little, if nothing at all, against gang violence and domestic violence, asylum seekers will have to prove that this is a large-scale pattern and that the government was ultimately responsible for failing to protect them. Sessions noted that even though local police might not have acted on reports of a crime that “does not necessarily mean that the government is unwilling or unable to control crime.” Now, asylum seekers are going to have a harden burden to prove that their claim follows Sessions new rules.
Sessions new decisions regarding asylum are going to have a devastating impact on women in particular. Women are often targeted by gang members for sexual violence and denying those women asylum is going to place them in more danger. If governments are doing little to prevent gang violence, women face long-term risks by remaining in their home countries. Without asylum, women are left to continue to fall victim to physical and sexual harassment by gang members.
Victims of domestic violence are also left without many asylum protections under Sessions’ new rules. Most victims of domestic violence, who are primarily women, no longer qualify for asylum protections. Although governments might, again, do very little to protect the long-term safety of women against their abusive partners and husbands, they no longer qualify to leave and seek permanent refuge in the United States. The new decision from Sessions strips away an avenue of safety. Even now, immigrant women who had been granted asylum on the grounds of being victims of abuse may face deportation back to their home countries, where they could be in serious danger of facing more intimate partner violence or even be killed as a result.
More protection, certainly not less, is needed for victims of gang and domestic violence. Asylum could be the difference between life and death for thousands, and the new regulations are incredibly dangerous.