U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Steps in on Immigration Court Ruling

June 15, 2018

On June 11, 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned an immigration appeals court decision granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman, Ms. A.B., fleeing domestic abuse. This decision rejects nearly two decades of precedent and is the latest development in defining asylum eligibility.

Prior to this ruling, victims of domestic violence could be classified as members of "particular social groups,” and thus meet part of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s requirements. The AG’s ruling overturns that. In his decision, Mr. Sessions stated that "[g]enerally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

This decision has sparked concern about the implications deportation will have on those fleeing countries wrought with domestic and gang violence. Some fear this decision will be a death sentence for women, such as Ms. A.B., who are no longer eligible for asylum and face deportation back to such dangerous and abusive environments.

Immigration judges are concerned about the implications of the decision as well. Some see the AG’s intervention as an infringement on their ability to decide cases, especially considering that Mr. Sessions has not publicly stated why he intervened in the matter.

As the head of the Justice Department, Mr. Sessions’ decision sets precedent for the nation’s immigration courts. The president of the National Association of Immigration Judges stated that the Attorney General’s power to make decisions like this indicates why immigration courts need "true independence” from the Justice Department.

Many recent news outlets are reporting on the outrage over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and resulting separations of families. The fallout of this controversial practice remains to be seen.

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