San Francisco, CA (June 11, 2018) – Today Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a deeply disappointing decision in an attempt to erode protections for domestic violence survivors and others who look to the United States for refuge. Invoking a rarely utilized power, Sessions reversed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ grant of asylum to a Salvadoran domestic violence survivor in a case known as Matter of A-B-.
Ms. A.B. fled to the United States after suffering 15 years of brutal violence at the hands of her ex-husband. He beat and kicked her, including while she was pregnant; bashed her head against a wall; threatened her with death while holding a knife to her throat and while brandishing a gun; and threatened to hang her. Ms. A.B. attempted to secure state protection, to no avail. Sessions first intervened in her case in March, when he certified the case to himself for reconsideration.
Following Sessions’ certification, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), Hastings, San Francisco, joined Ms. A.B.’s litigation team as co-counsel, submitting briefing in April.
In ruling against our client, Sessions overturned the groundbreaking Board of Immigration Appeals decision in Matter of A-R-C-G-, which in 2014 affirmed that domestic violence survivors are deserving of protection. In his decision Sessions makes the disturbing statement that, in accordance with his opinion, asylum claims “pertaining to domestic violence” should “generally” no longer be approved. “Today’s ruling marks a shameful attempt by Sessions to return us to an era when the United States did not recognize women’s rights as human rights, and women fleeing horrific gender-based persecution were wrongfully denied refugee protection,” said CGRS Director Karen Musalo. “Although his decision displays a flawed and erroneous interpretation of the law, existing jurisprudence continues to support asylum claims based on domestic violence.”
Notably, the Attorney General’s decision in A-B- completely disregards the robust documentation – over 700 pages’ worth – submitted to him by Ms. A.B.’s attorneys. Despite the overwhelming evidence corroborating our client’s claim, and the Board of Immigration Appeals’ favorable credibility finding, Sessions insists on calling into question Ms. A.B.’s honesty.
Consistent with his previous attacks on asylum seekers, Sessions mischaracterizes her as an economic migrant gaming the asylum system. Ms. A.B. is hurt and confused by Sessions’ refusal to believe her. Today she said, “I think immigration judges have something against immigrants. They generalize about immigrants and think that they are coming to work. They don’t understand that we are fleeing for our lives.”
Long before he issued his decision in Matter of A-B-, the Attorney General’s hostile, anti-immigrant rhetoric revealed his deep-seated bias against asylum seekers. “Sessions’ utter failure to consider the evidence in Ms. A.B.’s case suggests that he never had the intention to fairly adjudicate her claim,” said CGRS Co-Legal Director Blaine Bookey. “Every argument set forth in Sessions’ decision was addressed in the briefing submitted on Ms. A.B.’s behalf.” In the sweeping language of his decision, Sessions directs adjudicators nationwide to similarly prejudge asylum seekers’ claims, rejecting the applications of all who resemble Ms. A.B., regardless of their individual merits. This could result in the denial of many meritorious claims, endangering the lives of countless asylum seekers.
Under U.S. and international law, our country is obligated to provide refuge to people like Ms. A.B. who suffer persecution and are unable to avail themselves of protection in their home countries.
Despite the Attorney General’s reversal of A-R-C-G-, domestic violence survivors who meet the legal requirements for asylum must still be provided a fair opportunity to present their individual claims. In the coming months, CGRS will be tracking closely adjudicators’ application of today’s decision and strategically intervening in cases to push back against Sessions’ erroneous and harmful interpretation of the law. We will not allow the Attorney General to turn back the clock on women and others fleeing life-threatening violence.
Posted by Melanie Nathan
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