NJFON condemns U.S. Attorney General’s ruling to end asylum protections for victims of domestic and gang violence

Monday, June 11, 2018

In yet another disheartening and vindictive policy announcement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has shut and locked the door on asylum seekers fleeing persecution from domestic or gang violence.

 “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” he wrote in Matter of A-B-, Respondent.  “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes – such as domestic violence or gang violence – or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

Thomas Reuters Foundation News. Photo credit: Jorge Dan Lopez and Ulises Rodriguez

The primary targets of Mr. Sessions’ announcement appear to be victims of domestic and gang violence from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—who seek safety and asylum here in the United States.

That is egregious. But as NJFON—and nine other faith-based organizations—warned in an amicus brief (friend of the court), the attorney general’s ruling could also have dire and far-reaching consequences for those fleeing religious and other types of persecution around the world.

We categorically condemn this decision, and we join the army of advocates and lawyers who rise to challenge it.

We hope you will join us.

 These domestic violence survivors are not “mere” victims of ordinary crime.

Domestic violence victims from El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries, are often unable to escape their abusers and unable to receive help from any quarter, including the police, the courts, or the community.

“Understand that these women are refugees who have been savagely beaten and raped by their domestic partners,” says Shane Ellison, legal director for Immigrant Legal Center, (our JFON site in Nebraska), who represented NJFON in filing the amicus brief.

“These abusers, in some instances, can even commit femicide with impunity, knowing they won’t be prosecuted in their country.”

Their victims know this, too. They know that if they have any chance of escape, they must flee from both dangerous partners and from a society that permits, and even condones, the violence perpetuated against them.

Gang Violence in parts of Central America isn’t just a matter of a “problem policing certain crimes.”

The Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala consistently rank as three of the most violent countries in the world.

The M-13 and M-18, the region’s largest gangs, both formed here in the United States, have between 54,000 – 85,000 members in total. These are powerful transnational crime organizations that effectively take over large swaths of cities, towns and rural areas, where they can extort, kidnap, rape, torture and murder without significant interference from government forces.

Police corruption is rampant and law enforcement successes few and far between. There are areas in this region where as many as 95 percent of crimes go unpunished.

Victims of non-governmental persecution also deserve our protection

There are governments around the world that officially and actively persecute groups of people based on religion, race, ethnicity, political ideology, sexual orientation, or other factors.

There are also mobs, terrorists, gangs, and other non-governmental actors who persecute and target vulnerable groups of people. When their government is unable or unwilling to protect members of these groups, then these members have a right to apply for asylum here in the United States.

“Any civil war,” Shane explains, “could involve non-state actors committing atrocities. There will be targeted killings based on ethnic lines, political parties, and religion.”

“ISIS,” he reminds us gravely, “is not a state actor. ISIS terrorists are acting contrary to the laws of both the Iraqi and Syrian governments.”

“You only leave home when home won’t let you stay.*”

They make great sacrifices. They take enormous risks. They put themselves—and their children—in harm’s way. Asylum seekers do not flee to the United States because it’s easy.

They come because they want—and they want their families—to live.

Want to do more to help? The United Methodist Church has some ideas for you.


*From the poem “Home” by Warshan Shire. 

Feature photo (home page) of femicide victim courtesy of  El Canche Guatemala news


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