In major immigration news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that domestic violence will no longer be grounds for asylum, a far-reaching shift that could affect thousands of women fleeing gender-based violence, particularly from Central America.
Sessions overturned a precedent set in a 2014 immigration appeals court ruling that had granted asylum to a Guatemalan woman named Aminta Cifuentes, who had fled to the United States after being brutally abused by her husband for years—raped, beaten, kicked, burned with acid, and punched so hard in the stomach when she was 8 months pregnant that her child was born prematurely and with bruises. He told her it was pointless to go to the police, because “even the police and judges beat their wives.” She did go to authorities, who refused to intervene. When she left him, he tracked her down and threatened to kill her. She then fled for the United States, where she finally won asylum.
But on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the precedent set in her case, ruling “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” Immigration lawyers have condemned the ruling, which could have sweeping effects not only for women fleeing domestic violence, but all people fleeing gang-based violence. Karen Musalo of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law said, “What this decision does is yank us all back to the Dark Ages of human rights and women’s human rights.”