Federal Judge Blocks Restrictions on Who Can Seek Asylum

By Shani Saxon Dec 20, 2018

A federal judge on Wednesday (December 19) blocked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ policy preventing immigrants fleeing domestic and gang violence from seeking asylum in the United States, Aljazeera reports. 

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the guidelines for asylum set forth by the Trump administration are no longer allowed to be used when establishing a "credible fear." He determined those policies to be “arbitrary, capricious and in violation of the immigration law."

In June of this year, Sessions reversed an Obama-era precedent that "allowed more women to claim credible fears of domestic abuse," as reported by The New York Times. Sessions said at the time, "An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances…yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune." 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in August in response to the Trump administration’s new policy on behalf of a dozen asylum seekers, including children, who were victims of sexual abuse, kidnappings and beatings in their home countries, ABC News reports. In his ruling on the suit, Judge Sullivan ordered federal officials to return "deported plaintiffs back to the U.S., at no expense to those plaintiffs, to pursue their asylum claims under revised policies," according to ABC.

ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt responded to Judge Sullivan’s ruling by saying, "The court has once again made clear that the Trump administration cannot do an end-run around the decision by Congress to provide protection to vulnerable individuals regardless of where they seek asylum. This ruling will save lives." 

Trump’s team called the ruling "judicial activism." The White House also said in its statement, "Today, a court has, once again, overridden and undermined United States immigration law. Under the law, asylum is a discretionary benefit for aliens who have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Today’s ruling will further overwhelm our immigration courts with meritless cases, making the existing massive backlog even worse."