On June 11 2018, Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, ruled that domestic violence and gang violence would no longer serve as a basis for seeking asylum. Jeff Sessions’ ruling falls in line with the current restrictive approach to immigration. It overrules a decision made by a 2014 immigration appeals board, restricting the flow of asylum seekers into the United States.

Immigrants applying for asylum are required prove their eligibility by demonstrating that they face persecution based on one of five specific characteristics: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a “particular social group.” In addition, the asylum seeker must show that the government is either the persecutor or that the government is unable to protect the applicant from the persecutors.

In the past, those suffering from domestic abuse or gang violence have claimed asylum based on the open definition of membership in a ‘particular social group’. However, Session’s ruling severely limits this definition as in the cases of domestic and gang violence, membership in a ‘particular social group’ is nearly impossible to prove. Instead, Sessions classifies both domestic and gang violence as a ‘purely personal matter’, thus invalidating asylum claims from those attempting to flee from violence that cannot be policed by the government. In justifying his ruling, Sessions cited Matter of Pierre, in which a 1975 BIA ruled that a Haitian woman did not qualify for asylum protection even though her husband was an abusive high-ranking government official unlikely to be restrained by the Haitian legal system. The BIA stated that the motivation behind her husband’s actions appeared to be ‘strictly personal’. “The Board has recognized this principle for decades, including in cases involving threats of domestic violence,” Sessions wrote.

This ruling will have a debilitating effect on not only victims of domestic and gang abuse seeking asylum, but also on the rights of women in the United States. Those seeking asylum on the basis of domestic abuse and gang violence will find it extremely difficult to gain asylum, while over 350,000 closed cases of granted asylum must be reopened and retried. Regarding violence against women, this ruling reduces the degree of abuse to a ‘purely personal matter’, thus acting as a detriment to the perception of abuse. It limits the role of the government in protecting the rights of the victims as their abuse has regressed to a personal issue, rather than one that is indicative of persecution based on their membership of a ‘particular social group’.

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