Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday moved to further restrict the acceptance of asylum seekers and other immigrants to the US by arguing that domestic abuse or the fear of gang violence aren't always acceptable grounds for granting asylum, according to NBC News.
"The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune," Sessions wrote in a formal legal opinion, exercising his authority to overturn decisions by federal immigration judges.
"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."
Under US and international law, a person may seek asylum based on past persecution or "a well-founded fear of future persecution" - as long as it's based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in at least one particular social group, NBC News reported.
For example, an immigration court ruled back in 2014 that "married women in Guatemala who were unable to leave their relationship" constituted members of one of these groups. By overturning the ruling, Sessions argued that domestic abuse victims didn't have obvious "easily-identifiable characteristics" that qualified them for membership in one of these protected groups.
Earlier Monday, in a speech to Justice Department immigration lawyers in Tysons Corner, Virginia, Sessions said the asylum system is being abused and "was never meant to alleviate all problems, even serious problems, that people face every day all over the world."
As Reuters pointed out, Sessions' ruling will have wide-ranging impacts on asylum seekers in the US. In response, pro-immigration groups issued furious responses. Beth Werlin of the American Immigration Council said it would "result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs."
Meanwhile, the number of asylum claims in the US jumped to 94,000 in 2016 compared with just 5,000 in 2009, of which Sessions said in his earlier speech, only about one-fifth of claims in the past five years have been found to be justified.
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