The ACLU sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ proclamation that asylum protections shouldn’t be granted to victims of domestic or gang violence, in addition to other changes the administration recently made to the asylum process.
“[T]he government is attempting to subvert decades of settled asylum law and setting up asylum seekers like Grace to fail their interviews,” the ACLU said in a press release Tuesday, referring to the pseudonym of one of the suit’s 12 plaintiffs, parents and children affected by the changes.
“Sessions has declared that the plight of domestic and gang violence survivors is ‘merely personal.'”
In June, Sessions personally weighed in on a single asylum case, Matter of A-B-, and set a new national precedent. Because immigration courts are housed in the Executive Branch, not the Judicial Branch, Sessions has the power to intervene in such cases.
Sessions decided A-B-’s asylum claim wasn’t valid because, contrary to years of decisions in similar cases, he asserted domestic violence victims aren’t members of a “particular social group,” one of the categories of individuals eligible to receive asylum protections.
Immigration agents were instructed to apply that precedent-setting decision to all so-called “credible fear” interviews they conducted with asylum seekers, the crucial first step in attaining asylum protections.
In addition to Sessions’ change to asylum qualifications, the ACLU’s suit further alleges that changes made to the initial asylum screening itself “distort the credible fear process beyond recognition.”
At the time of Sessions’ June decision, lawyers, clinicians and activists expressed frustration with his misunderstandings of immigration law.
“The ways in which he’s applying the legal standard seem to reflect basic misunderstandings of asylum law,” one of A-B-’s attorneys, Eunice Lee, told TPM.
“The attorney general harped on what he considered scant evidence of society’s view of women as distinct,” Deborah Anker, founder and director of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, told TPM. “But there is substantial evidence that women are targeted and deliberately unprotected in these countries — evidence that he just doesn’t address.”
Tuesday’s suit echoed those concerns.
“Sessions used Matter of A-B- as a vehicle to articulate new legal standards for the adjudication of asylum cases” based on domestic and gang violence, the ACLU said. “Matter of A-B- misstates or mischaracterizes multiple aspects of asylum law, seeking to heighten the asylum standards and increase the burden on asylum seekers to prove eligibility.”
In addition to Sessions, the suit also names as defendants Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna, and James McHenry, the Justice Department’s Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees all immigration courts.
Read the suit below: