Last Friday, June 8, 2018, an Immigration Judge in Texas awarded asylum to my client.
She had fled Honduras after suffering years brutal violence by her husband. After he broke her nose, stabbed her in the foot, repeatedly held a gun to her head and raped her at will, she fled to another part of the country and reported the abuse to the police. The police then called her abuser and advised him that she was trying to report him. After she tried to flee the country, Honduran border agents intercepted and detained her until her abuser showed up to get her. Only after attempting another dangerous escape was she able to flee to the United States to claim asylum.
Less than 24 business hours after the immigration judge’s asylum grant, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his sweeping decision in Matter of A-B-, in which he makes the disturbing statement that “generally” asylum claims “pertaining to domestic violence” should no longer be approved. He injected his animus towards immigrants and women throughout the decision, mischaracterizing Ms. A-B-, the respondent in the case, as an economic migrant coming to work rather than someone who was fleeing for her life. He ignored hundreds of pages of country conditions evidence that had been submitted to him documenting that the Salvadoran government, a country with one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, cannot or will not protect the respondent. His view that gender-based violence is a “strictly personal” matter is designed to return us to an era where women’s rights are not viewed as human rights.
Perhaps even more startling, Sessions then extended this flawed generalization about domestic violence claims to any case where the perpetrator is a private, non-governmental actor. This has broad implications for victims of gang and LGBTQ violence as well as people fleeing genocide by other ethnic groups. Sessions’ ruling directs adjudicators nationwide to prejudge and reject claims like these, regardless of the individual merits. In what is an exceedingly complex and fact-based area of law, this decision is designed to give adjudicators an easy way to deny the majority of claims before them after no more than a cursory glance.
It is hard to understate how insidious and legally suspect this decision is. It is transparently ideological and detached from treaty, statute, and legal precedent. Sessions inserted himself into this case through a rarely used provision that allows the Attorney General to hand pick cases from the Board of Immigration Appeals and refer them back to himself. Sixteen retired immigration judges and board members filed an amicus brief asserting, among other things, that Sessions’ self-certification of this case was “rife with procedural violations” and “raises serious due process concerns.”
Immigration lawyers around the country are organizing to fight back against Matter of A-B-, and it will unquestionably be challenged in the circuit courts. What is most concerning, however, is the immediate implications the decision will have on those currently at the border who are fleeing brutal violence and trying to claim asylum like my client did. Immigration officers at the border are already ripping children out of their parents’ arms to deter lawful asylum seekers from doing so. This ruling is another nail in the coffin for lawful asylum seekers, and countless numbers of people who are fleeing horrific violence will be told that that they do not qualify and will then be sent back.
Under both U.S. and international law, we are obligated to provide refuge to people who suffer persecution and whose governments cannot or will not protect them. Sessions’ decision last week is not only moral reprehensible, it is a flawed reading of our immigration laws and undermines the independence of the Immigration Courts.
I would never call my client fortunate. The horrors she left in Honduras will stay with her forever. She may have been granted asylum but she will remain scarred by that experience. And yet, she is among the fortunate and perhaps one of the last to be granted asylum before the Attorney General upended asylum law with this decision. Because make no mistake, this new policy will endanger the lives of countless numbers of asylum seekers.
Aimee Deverall is an immigration attorney and solo practitioner at Deverall Immigration Law, LLC in Bluffton, South Carolina.