Asylum Ruling Could Spark Deportations and Have ‘Chilling Effect’ on California Women

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Immigrant women in California who are pursuing asylum after fleeing domestic violence in their homelands could face deportation in the wake of a ruling Monday by the Trump administration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges June 11 to stop granting asylum to the majority of people seeking the protection on grounds that they suffered domestic or gang violence in their home countries. The ruling could affect tens of thousands of domestic violence victims—mostly women—some of whom are detained in California while they await the outcome of their cases, advocates said.

“This is an alarming and very dangerous decision,” said Jacquie Marroquin, director of programs for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “It puts (domestic violence survivors) in danger of being deported right back to a country or family environments where they are going to potentially be hurt again or they could lose their life.”

Sessions’ decision overturned a previous ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals that granted asylum to a woman from El Salvador who had suffered years of rape and abuse by her husband. The attorney general, whose ruling sets a precedent for other immigration cases, called domestic violence a “private” crime that is ineligible for U.S. asylum protection unless the applicant can prove that her home government is unwilling or unable to protect her.

“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,” Sessions wrote. “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

It’s not clear how many people in California are seeking asylum for domestic violence reasons. Figures from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show there were more than 318,000 asylum cases pending nationwide as of March, about a quarter of them in California. However, the figures don’t specify how many cases were based on claims of domestic violence.

Although Sessions’ ruling primarily affects people who’ve suffered domestic violence oversees, those working with immigrant communities across the state said they expected the announcement to have a “chilling effect” on other abuse victims’ willingness to report crimes. Some undocumented immigrants residing in the United States currently have the right to seek asylum if they suffer domestic violence or human trafficking here, as long as they report the abuse to authorities and cooperate with investigations into the crime.

In the current immigration climate, it’s already hard to persuade undocumented immigrant women to report their abusers to the police, said Irene Gomez, program director with the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Ventura County. Now, women will be even more scared to seek help for fear that talking to law enforcement could result in deportation, Gomez said. Women could end up staying in violent situations for years, subject to physical, sexual and psychological abuse, she said.

“The most difficult thing for a woman is the fear of making that report, the fear of having a legal problem,” she said in Spanish. “They worry that, ‘Instead of it helping me, it could hurt me.’ I work day after day with women in this situation and it saddens me. It pains my heart.”

Marroquin called on immigration judges adjudicating domestic violence asylum cases to use their own discretion when deciding who can remain in the country. She said Congress should also use its power to reject the attorney general’s decision and instead work on a bipartisan agreement to ensure the existing protections for domestic violence victims remain in place.

Sessions’ ruling is “not just concerning but terrifying for survivors and their children,” she said. “It is not a part of the values of the United States.”

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