A federal judge has struck down most of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s policy blocking victims of domestic and gang-related violence from seeking asylum. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered that the government stop enforcing the policy, and ordered the return of plaintiffs who had been deported without being afforded a chance to seek asylum.
“A general rule that effectively bars [asylum] claims based on certain categories of persecutors (i.e. domestic abusers or gang members) or claims related to certain kinds of violence,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan wrote, is “contrary” to the Refugee Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“And because it is the will of Congress—not the whims of the Executive—that determines the standard for expedited removal, the Court finds that those policies are unlawful,” Sullivan wrote.
In June, Sessions issued new guidelines saying that “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” Asylum seekers must demonstrate, during a “credible fear interview,” that they are fleeing persecution based on their identity, political or religious beliefs, or their social group. In a landmark decision in 2014, the Obama administration recognized women trapped in abusive relationships as a social class to be protected under asylum. Sessions’s June decision reversed that. “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” he wrote.
Sullivan, who called Sessions’s policy “arbitrary and capricious,” concluded “there is no legal basis for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims.”
He has barred the federal government from applying the policies that Sessions instituted, and from deporting plaintiffs “without first providing credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.” He also ordered the return of “plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.”
BuzzFeed News reports that the Justice Department has filed a motion to put the ruling on hold.