Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced that victims of domestic violence or gang violence will "generally" no longer be eligible to apply for asylum in the United States, overturning an Obama-era precedent that will impact tens of thousands of would-be immigrants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.
The American Immigration Council, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group, said Sessions is "taking away a vital lifeline" for victims of severe domestic and gang violence.
Sessions' made the unusual move to personally intervene in the case, known as the "Matter of A-B-" after the woman had won an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals to overturn a lower immigration court judge's denial of her asylum petition. In March, Sessions ended a requirement that asylum seekers get a full hearing before an immigration judge, making it easier for judges to close cases they deem frivolous or unlikely to succeed.
In a deciding opinion on a case of an unidentified woman from El Salvador who was raped and beaten by her husband for years, Sessions said that asylum seekers must prove that they suffer persecution arising from their membership in a distinct group. The other categories are for race, religion, nationality and political affiliation.
Trump and Sessions like to talk tough about crime, and particularly gang violence.
Monday's ruling by Sessions centers on an asylum case filed by a Salvadoran woman who entered the United States illegally in 2014.
"No country provides its citizens with complete security from private criminal activity, and flawless protection is not required", he wrote.
Despite President Donald Trump's tough talk on immigration, border arrests topped 50,000 for a third straight month in May and lines of asylum seekers have grown at United States crossings with Mexico.
'"Credible fear claims have sky-rocketed and the percentage of asylum claims found to be meritorious by our judges has declined significantly", stated the attorney general.
Sessions says this action is necessary to maintain "the rule of law", which is a pretty clear indication that his idea of "the law" includes neither justice nor mercy.
The woman could still potentially appeal the case again to the Board of Immigration Appeals, then a federal appeals court and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.
"For reasons understood only by himself, the Attorney General today erased an important legal development that was universally agreed to be correct", they wrote.
"The asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, and public safety - and to the detriment of people with just claims", he said.
And immigration courts overall face a backlog of about 700,000 cases of all types.