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The Justice Department Overturns Rules That Limited Asylum For Survivors Of Violence

Could be: Ms. A.B. is seeking asylum in the U.S. after suffering more than a decade of domestic violence in El Salvador. Attorney General Merrick Garland is vacating controversial legal decisions his predecessors issued in her case.

Kevin D. Liles for NPR


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Kevin D. Liles for NPR

The Justice Department Overturns Rules That Limited Asylum For Survivors Of Violence

Could be: Ms. A.B. is seeking asylum in the U.S. after suffering more than a decade of domestic violence in El Salvador. Attorney General Merrick Garland is vacating controversial legal decisions his predecessors issued in her case.

Kevin D. Liles for NPR

Survivors of domestic and gang violence have better odds of getting asylum in the U.S. as the Justice Department reverses several controversial rulings from the Trump administration.

In a pair of decisions announced Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland is vacating several controversial legal rulings issued by his predecessors — in effect, restoring the possibility of asylum protections for women fleeing from domestic violence in other countries, and some victims of gang violence.

“These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our Nation’s asylum laws, which reflect America’s commitment to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote in a memo explaining the decisions to the country’s immigration judges.

Biden signed an executive order in February telling his administration to rewrite the asylum rules. But that process will take months, if not years. Immigrant advocates warned that abuse survivors were still at risk of being deported, and urged the attorney general to take swift action in the meantime.

Wednesday’s decisions essentially mean that asylum rules will revert to what they were before former President Trump took office. The cases, known as Matter of A.B. and Matter of L.E.A., were both decided by attorneys general during the Trump administration.

Trump frequently referred to asylum as a “scam,” and his administration took many steps to limit asylum protections for migrants arriving at the southern border.

“The asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law,” said then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a speech in 2018, when he argued that there are some social ills the U.S. just can’t fix.

“Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems — even all serious problems — that people face every day all over the world,” Sessions said.

In the process, immigrant advocates say Sessions took U.S. law backwards. They say many women are still suffering persecution in countries where the police won’t protect them from violent partners — including Ms. A.B, the woman at the center of the case that bears her name. She says she had no choice but to leave El Salvador and seek protection in the U.S.

“We are fleeing the possibility of being assassinated,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter in an interview earlier this year. “I was able to escape, but many have died, many people are no longer around to tell their story.”

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