Three months ago , US Attorney General Jeff Sessions began looking into a case that was long ago settled. The case centered around Aminta Cifuentes — a Guatemalan who escaped her home country in 2005 and fled to the US because her husband had been beating her for 10 years . Guatemalan police did nothing to prevent him from burning her with acid, breaking her nose, or punching her in the stomach when she was eight months pregnant; the country’s laws regarded domestic violence as a private matter. However, in 2014 — in a landmark ruling — US immigration appeals court ruled domestic abuse a public matter and granted Cifuentes asylum. Yesterday, Sessions reversed that ruling and now Cifuentes faces deportation.
His ruling isn’t exclusive to Cifuentes’s case. By reversing the Obama-era ruling, Sessions is now prohibiting anyone from seeking asylum based on domestic or gang violence. Sessions’ reversal against migrants seeking asylum comes a month since he announced that families who entered the US illegally would be separated from their children .
“The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her,” Sessions wrote in his ruling . He adds that: “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.”
Karen Musalo, director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, told The Washington Post that Sessions’ ruling “basically throws us back to the Dark Ages , when we didn’t recognize that women’s rights were human rights.”
“If we say in the year 2018 that a woman has been beaten almost to death in a country that accepts that as almost the norm, and that we as a civilized society can deny her protection and send her to her death?” Musalo told The Washington Post. “I don’t see this as just an immigration issue … I see this as a women’s rights issue .”
In a speech yesterday at the Immigration Judges Conference in Fairfax County, Virginia, Sessions said that the “number of people who told Homeland Security officials that they had a credible fear of persecution jumped to 94,000 in 2016 from 5,000 in 2009.” Sessions said he would restore “sound principles of asylum and longstanding principles of immigration law.”
“17 months after Donald Trump entered the White House, it’s still possible to be shocked by how recklessly this administration risks the lives of immigrants and refugees,” People For the American Way Political Director Lizet Ocampo said in a statement. “Jeff Sessions’ decision to make it harder of for thousands of individuals to escape violence, including sexual violence, is reprehensible. It’s yet another attack in Donald Trump’s war on immigrants in general and on the Latino community in particular. This administration has rarely missed an opportunity to punish and hurt the most vulnerable people in our society, but even by their own shamefully low standards this is a particularly horrific move.”
(Photo by John Moore/Getty)