Trump administration moves to block victims of gang violence, domestic abuse from claiming asylum

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at JFK International Airport in October 2017.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at JFK International Airport in October 2017. (David Wexler / For New York Daily News)

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has ordered immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, a move that would block tens of thousands of people, especially women, from seeking refuge in America.

The decision, which immigration advocates are sure to aggressively fight, came as Sessions seeks to use the authority of his office to sharply change U.S. immigration law to make it less friendly to asylum seekers.


The attorney general has the power to issue decisions that serve as binding precedents for immigration judges. In this instance, he used a case involving a victim of domestic violence to rule that survivors of such “private” crimes are not eligible for asylum under U.S. law.

“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote in his ruling. “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.”

In a speech earlier in the day to a training session for immigration officials, Sessions telegraphed his position, saying that “asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems— even all serious problems— that people face every day all over the world.”

His anticipated “ruling restores sound principles of asylum and longstanding principles of immigration law,” he said.

Sessions emphasized at the conference earlier in the day that judges will be required to follow his interpretation of the law.

The government does not appear to keep statistics on exactly how many asylum claims fall into the categories Sessions is now excluding, but advocates estimate that domestic violence victims seeking asylum number in the tens of thousands each year. A large share of those requests have been successful, as a result of several administrative rulings and court cases during the Obama administration.

“There are many, many Central American women and women from other parts of the world who have been able to obtain protection,” said Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas Law School in Austin. “Many women sitting right now in detention under these claims might lose their right to obtain protection and be deported to dangerous situations.”