U.S. attorneys are grappling with the decision made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday limiting who qualifies for asylum within the country.
Sessions' move could put at risk more than 350,000 pending asylum claims by individuals fleeing violence in their home nations, immigration lawyer Bea Bischoff writes in Slate. The majority of the cases involve Central Americans and Mexicans escaping domestic and gang violence in their native countries.
On Monday, the attorney general reversed a still-processing asylum case involving a Salvadoran woman whose former husband raped and beat her for 15 years.
Sessions, who immigration attorneys agree violated judicial procedure to make his decision, wrote in a brief that asylum seekers must be part of a "particular social group," rather than a "private person."
Essentially, the ruling highly restricts the ability of people trying to escape domestic or gang violence in their home country to gain U.S. asylum.
"The 'particular social group' must be socially recognized as distinct within the society in which the group exists and not by the prosecutor's perception," Sessions concluded in his ruling.
Abused women used to pertain to a "social group," but Sessions' decision throws out that precedent: "Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum," he wrote.
"Sessions' decision regarding asylum applications is another political campaign to promote its anti-immigrant agenda. With this decision, the current administration seeks to dissuade people from coming to this country in search of protection under the asylum law,” blogs Atlanta lawyer Barbara Vazquez.
Lawyers are now searching for the best avenue to protect their asylum-seeking clients who are victims of violence in their native countries.
Boston immigration attorney Matt Cameron told Reuters his office has a hearing on Thursday for a woman who endured years of physical violence from her partner. He said the case would likely have succeeded before the advent of Sessions' decision.
"This person had been through a lot of counseling, a lot of preparation. ... It took a long time to get her to the point where she could actually talk about it,” he said. “Now you have to tell them they don’t even have a case anymore.”
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, immigration lawyer Rebecca Kitson said she had about six cases pending that were now in doubt.
One involves a teenager from El Salvador whose father was gunned down by gangs. These same gangs then began to threaten the son.
Kitson said they "can't change that they are based on gang violence… The plan is to keep fighting and hope that appeals and the federal courts will sort it out."
Vazquez says: "Asylum cases based on domestic violence will be complicated," but her office, Vazquez & Servi, will continue to apply for asylum under these circumstances.