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Judge Overturns Federal Policy On Asylum-Seekers Fleeing Domestic Or Gang Violence

Veronica G. Cardenas for The Texas Tribune
Immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin (center) talks with Nicaraguan asylum seekers while they wait for Customs and Border Protection agents to bring a wheelchair for one of them on the U.S. side of the international bridge in Hidalgo on Sept. 15.

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the bulk of a recent White House policy that made it more difficult for victims of domestic and gang violence to seek asylum in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan of Washington D.C. ruled that the policy, which was implemented by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June, was "arbitrary and capricious" and went against standards set forth in the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

Sullivan said the 12 asylum seekers who challenged the new policy "alleged accounts of sexual abuse, kidnappings, and beatings in their home countries during interviews with asylum officers.” Sullivan said they were unlawfully deported and ordered them brought back for new credible fear interviews, which are required for asylum claims.

When Sessions announced the policy change, he said that “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

In his memorandum, Sessions cited a 2015 asylum denial concerning a Salvadoran woman who claimed she was fleeing violence. That case was overturned, but Sessions argued the denial "was wrongly decided" and should not have been used as a legal precedent because the Board of Immigration Appeals merely cited another case that involved married Guatemalan women who were trapped in abusive relationships.

In his ruling, Sullivan disagreed, saying that the Trump administration's new policies on asylum seekers “are inconsistent with the intent of Congress as articulated in the [Immigration and Nationality Act]."

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

“Judge Sullivan’s decision ensures that our asylum system remains open to refugees at our border, including those fleeing domestic violence and gang violence,” Eunice Lee, the co-legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, said in a statement. “These individuals raise legitimate claims under U.S. and international law, and have an unequivocal right to seek asylum.”

From The Texas Tribune.

Julian Aguilar covered the 81st legislative session for the Rio Grande Guardian. Previously, he reported from the border for the Laredo Morning Times. A native of El Paso, he has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas and a master's degree in journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas.
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