DOJ Overturns Trump-Era Policies Limiting Asylum for Survivors of Violence

On June 16, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed legal rulings issued by the Trump administration that barred survivors of domestic violence and gang violence from filing asylum claims. He cited an executive order by President Joe Biden—signed in February—that ordered officials to figure out if current asylum policies provide refuge to victims fleeing from domestic violence and those targeted by gangs in a way that aligns with international laws. 

However, the process of crafting new asylum rules by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may take months, if not years. In the meantime, immigrant advocates have urged the attorney general to take immediate action since abuse survivors remained at risk of being deported due to current Trump-era policies still in effect. 

In a 2018 opinion that was revoked last month, former AG Jeff Sessions decided that victims of domestic and gang violence “perpetrated by non-governmental actors”—rather, by “private” criminal offenses—would not be considered a basis for asylum. The ruling overturned a 2014 appellate opinion that said women who were domestic violence victims qualify as a “particular social group” to be eligible for asylum. 

According to U.S. immigration law, Asylum applicants must show they suffered persecution due to their race, religion, political views, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. Immigration advocates said that Sessions’ interpretation took the law backward and left women abused by their violent partners completely vulnerable. 

In a 2019 opinion that was also reversed by the DOJ, former AG William Barr ruled that persecution stemming from family ties in ordinary cases would not be protected under the membership of a particular social group. After Barr’s opinion was overturned, the 2019 guidance provided to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers were also revoked. 

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said Garland’s rulings would enable the Biden administration to address complicated and important asylum issues through the formal legal process. In addition, she ordered Justice Department attorneys to cease defending asylum restrictions from the former administration in lawsuits filed by immigrant advocates. 

If you or a loved one qualifies for asylum and interested in filing in Arizona, contact Kanu & Associates, P.C. today at (602) 353-7795 for a case review. Our Phoenix immigration firm has more than two decades of legal experience! 

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