Today, women from all over the world are knocking on America’s gates, seeking refuge from violent homes and homelands. But the Trump administration wants to close the door on them forever.
The White House is currently seeking to overturn a long-standing legal principle in immigration law providing asylum protection for victims of domestic abuse. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has set his sights on the migrant women—particularly those fleeing violence-racked communities in the Global South—so desperate to escape their homes they sought refuge in another country. In addition to the administration’s new policy of splitting migrant families at the border by detaining parents and children in separate facilities—a practice condemned as dangerous and abusive—Sessions is now challenging an individual asylum case with the aim of shredding humanitarian precedents for all migrants fleeing domestic violence. If the White House prevails, rights groups say, it could become nearly impossible to ensure essential refugee protection for countless survivors escaping gender-based abuse in their home countries.
The case in question is that of A-B-, a woman from El Salvador who endured physical and psychological abuse and rape at the hands of her partner for about 15 years. When she fled to seek humanitarian relief in the United States, she was initially granted protection. But Sessions now seeks to make an example of her—not by demonstrating the country’s historical commitment to providing protection to victims of abuse, but rather by exploiting her abuse to revisit a legal precept of treating domestic violence as a form of gender-based persecution. In alignment with recent case law and advocacy efforts, along with the International Refugee Convention, according to the petition filed by the Tahirih Justice Center, this precedent is based on the standard of granting asylum to domestic-abuse survivors “if the violence rises to the level of persecution, the abuser is someone the home government cannot or will not control, and the woman can be viewed by her society as fitting into a particular social group.”
A-B- is one of many women facing violence under chaotic governments in El Salvador, as well as Honduras and Guatemala, and therefore deserves protection and safe resettlement in the United States. Her case is now suspended, pending review over the question of whether, for migrant women like her, “being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable ‘particular social group’ for purposes of an application for asylum.” A reversal could drastically raise the threshold of proof for an asylum seeker. Authorities are currently demanding much more up-front evidence to prove such claims of persecution are genuine.