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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 1:00 am

Asylum for abuse stopped by DOJ

Sessions reverses protections given since 2014 case

Washington Post

Also

Agent wounded

PHOENIX – A U.S. Border Patrol agent was wounded in a shooting on an Arizona ranch near the U.S.-Mexico border before dawn Tuesday in a remote area known for drug and migrant smuggling, the agency and the cattleman who owns the property said.

The agent was taken to a hospital after the 4:30 a.m. shooting near the community of Arivaca and several people were detained, a Border Patrol Statement said, providing no information on the agent's injuries or the circumstances of the shooting.

Jim Chilton, a fifth-generation Arizona cattleman who runs the 50,000-acre ranch, told The Associated Press in an interview that the Border Patrol sent him an email saying the agent was alone when he was wounded on the ranch and was struck in the leg and the hand. Several bullets also struck the agent's protective vest, which probably saved his life, Chilton said.

– Associated Press

Aminta Cifuentas suffered weekly beatings at the hands of her husband. He broke her nose, burned her with paint thinner and raped her.

She called the police in her native Guatemala several times but was told they could not interfere in a domestic matter, according to a court ruling. When Cifuentas's husband hit her in the head, leaving her bloody, police came to the home but refused to arrest him. He threatened to kill her if she called authorities again.

So in 2005, Cifuentas fled to the U.S. “If I had stayed there, he would have killed me,” she told the Arizona Republic.

And after nearly a decade of waiting on an appeal, Cifuentes was granted asylum in the U.S.

The 2014 landmark decision by the Court of Immigration Appeals set the precedent that women fleeing domestic violence were eligible to apply for asylum. It established clarity in long-running debate over whether asylum can be granted on the basis of violence perpetrated in the “private” sphere, according to Karen Musalo, director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

But on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the precedent set in Cifuentas's case, deciding that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law. (Unlike the federal courts established under Article III of the Constitution, the immigration court system is part of the Justice Department.)

For critics, including former immigration judges, the unilateral decision undoes decades of carefully deliberated legal progress.

For gender studies experts, such as Musalo, the move “basically throws us back to the Dark Ages, when we didn't recognize that women's rights were human rights.”

Sessions's decision reversed a 2016 ruling by the Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals, the body responsible for interpreting U.S. asylum law, granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she was abused by her husband. Musalo is co-counsel in the case.

Sessions's reasoning hinged on the argument that domestic violence victims are not generally persecuted as members of a “particular social group,” according to his ruling. Under federal law, asylum applicants must show that either “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion ... was or will be at least one central reason for” their persecution.

In the precedent-setting Cifuentas case, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that an applicant can qualify for asylum as a member of a particular social group of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.” To support its ruling, the board noted that Guatemala has a culture of “machismo and family violence.”

Spousal rape is common and local police often fail to enforce domestic violence laws.

Sessions rejected that reasoning. “When private actors inflict violence based on a personal relationship with a victim,” Sessions wrote, “then the victim's membership in a larger group may well not be 'one central reason' for the abuse.”

“The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her,” Sessions wrote.

“An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family, or other personal circumstances. Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”