By Nadine Jawad, AIUSA intern, and Kaitlyn O’Shaughnessy, AIUSA country specialist
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Matter of A-B decision to overturn a grant of asylum to a Salvadoran woman who survived 15 years of horrific domestic violence will seriously undercut asylum protections for such survivors in the United States. This decision amounts to a death sentence for many women and indicates that the United States is turning our backs on some of society’s most vulnerable.
Many individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. because of severe domestic violence come from the Northern Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador, and and Guatemala, where women, girls, and LGBTI people face high levels of gender-based violence and governments are unable to protect them. In Honduras, the Centre for Women’s Rights registered 236 violent deaths of women between January and October 2017. In Guatemala in March 2017, 41 girls died in a fire locked inside a classroom in the Virgen de la Asunción government-run shelter in San José Pinula. In El Salvador, from January to November 2017, there were 429 femicides.
Historically, severe domestic violence has been the basis of successful asylum claims. Take the example of Ms. L.C., a Honduran woman who immigrated to the United States to seek asylum after years of horrific physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. He lashed her with a belt, punched her, and raped her. On one occasion, he pressed a gun to her head to remind her how easy it would be to kill her. On her way home one day, Ms. L.C.’s daughter, Rosa (not her real name) witnessed the murder of eight people on a bus. The Mara-18 murdered these people because the bus company refused to pay the “tax” or extortion the gang demanded. The gang saw Rosa watching, followed her home, and threatened to kill her and her mom. They told Rosa’s mom that if she did not pay their extortion, the Mara-18 would kidnap Rosa for the sex trade. However, Rosa’s plight did not convince the Immigration Judge to approve Ms. L.C.’s asylum claim; the domestic violence against Ms. L.C. did. Now, however, such a case would likely be denied and Ms. L.C. and her daughter would be deported.
Because of Attorney General Sessions’ decision, thousands of women will be returned to extremely violent situations in countries where governments are unable and unwilling to protect them. Not only is AG Sessions’ decision cruel, it fundamentally and willfully misunderstands international human rights law and precedents, which have consistently held that “private” violence is a human rights matter and that states must protect their citizens from such violence. Individuals who have endured severe domestic violence and whose government has failed to protect them deserve asylum in the United States. Our country has an obligation to protect asylum seekers, and we cannot allow these protections to be chipped away.
We must keep advocating for the protection of those seeking asylum in the United States.
In response to the A.G.’s decision, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9th District) introduced H.Res 987 condemning this new precedent. In a tweet, she says, “…On the 1 month anniversary of Jeff Sessions’ inhumane move to declare domestic violence as invalid grounds for seeking asylum in the United States, I introduced a resolution condemning him. I was joined by 77 of my @HouseDemocrats colleagues.”