Immigration lawyers are challenging the Trump administration’s crackdown on asylum-seekers in court.
Under a sweeping new policy announced in June by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the administration says domestic abuse and gang violence should “generally” not be considered grounds for asylum claims.
Now a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies says that policy violates U.S. law by depriving asylum-seekers of the right to seek humanitarian protections.
The new legal challenge was brought on behalf of a dozen plaintiffs who fled their home countries after suffering “horrific persecution,” according to the complaint, including rape, beating, death threats and the murder of family members. The suit alleges their claims were all rejected at the earliest stage of the asylum process, known as the credible fear interview, without presenting a full case to an immigration judge.
The lead plaintiff in the case is identified only as Grace. According to the lawsuit, she fled Guatemala to escape an abusive husband who beat and sexually assaulted her for more than 20 years.
“Grace is just an example of someone who should have passed the credible fear standard, and would have under the old standards,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney for the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “But now she’s at risk of deportation to Guatemala where she fears for her life and her physical safety.”
As NPR has reported, immigration lawyers say they have seen a jump in the number of asylum-seekers who are rejected at the credible fear screening. The attorney general’s June decision came in a closely watched case known as “Matter of A-B-,” named for a Salvadoran woman who is seeking asylum in the U.S. That was followed last month by new guidelines for asylum officers who work for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The Trump administration argues that too many asylum-seekers were passing the credible fear screening.
“Many of those seeking to enter this country illegally, and the smuggling organizations who profit from them, know that a few key words are all it takes to get an alien through this screening process,” said L. Francis Cissna, the director of USCIS, on Capitol Hill in May.