US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions rules out domestic violence for asylum claims

Immigration judges generally cannot consider domestic and gang violence as grounds for asylum, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday in a ruling that could affect large numbers of Central Americans who have increasingly turned to the United States for protection. Sessions wrote Monday that a gang's victims have not necessarily "been targeted "on account of" their membership" in a social group just because the gang harassed a certain geographical area. "This change will put the lives of particularly vulnerable people at risk", he continued.

In immigration court, certain opinions published by the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest immigration court, serve to set national legal precedent.

The US attorney general has announced more restrictions on migrants seeking asylum in the country. She fought her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which sided with her.

To discourage people from coming to the United States, federal officials recently adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for illegal border crossings, criminally prosecuting people even if they are seeking asylum or have crossed the border with their children.

An administration official said last month that the backlog of asylum cases topped 300,000, almost half the total backlog.

The decision, which immigration advocates are sure to aggressively fight, came as Sessions seeks to use the authority of his office to sharply change USA immigration law to make it less friendly to asylum seekers. The procedure does not provide permanent residency, but it can allow immigrants to live in the United States indefinitely.

The government does not say how many asylum claims are for domestic or gang violence but their advocates said there could be tens of thousands of domestic violence cases in the current immigration court backlog.

"They continue to separate children from their families, and now they're targeting victims of domestic violence".

"We've spoken with Ms. A.B. herself, and she's incredibly fearful as you can imagine", Bookey said.

Last fall, Sessions hinted in a speech that he would try to limit the circumstances under which asylum can be granted.

The attorney general's ruling said it is still possible that crime victims could win asylum in the United States, but they would have to pass a tougher test in the courts, including showing that their home government is unable or unwilling to protect them, and that they cannot safely relocate to another part of their own country. "They were never meant to provide asylum to all those who fear generalized violence, crime, personal vendettas, or a lack of job prospects".

Vanessa Coleman