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By Decree, Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen Unilaterally Gut Asylum in America

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“My husband tortured me,” she said simply. She said he regularly choked her until she passed out. He would cut himself and make her drink his blood. She showed me the fingers he had broken. She raised her blue uniform to reveal two letters — the first two of his name — that her husband had carved into her belly. It got worse. She said he stuffed his hand up her vagina, saying he was trying to pull her womb out. Another time he held her down and rammed a knife up her vagina.

That’s when she left him. She moved 15 times in a year, but he always found her. She called the police on him more than a dozen times, but they said: “Those are private matters. We can do nothing.” After her husband tried to run her over with his car, the officer in charge of her case frankly advised her, “You should leave the country.”

So she did. And when she presented herself at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry to ask for safety, she said, the Border Patrol agent sneered. “Why are you leaving your husband? There’s no asylum for that!”

— Sonia Nazario writing in the New York Times about Mayra Lucrecia Arriola Hurtarte, a 29-year-old woman from Guatemala, who has been in detention for three and a half months after applying for asylum as a victim of domestic violence.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, by decree, is gutting the U.S. asylum system. He’s doing so with the active collaboration of his partner-in-crime, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. In defiance of existing law, policy and precedent, these changes will make it difficult, if not impossible, for people who are currently considered refugees to be welcomed to our nation.

Two new pieces capture the disturbing related developments and implications.

  • CNN’s Tal Kopan reports on the significance of new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidance that adheres to AG Sessions’ decision last month that our government should reject asylum claims related to domestic violence and gang violence.
  • In the New York Times, author and immigration expert Sonia Nazario details a collection of harrowing stories of women fleeing for their lives who now, thanks to AG Sessions, will have no place to turn. Nazario captures why any American, who purports to care about the rule of law, should be outraged by the way Sessions, with the complicity of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others, has gutted asylum law.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen are taking a wrecking ball to the very idea of America as a shining city on the hill that provides refuge to those coming to America seeking freedom and safety. The subversion of asylum laws and reversal of settled standards for protection will, quite literally, send refugees to their deaths. For caring people in America, every person who comes to our nation seeking safety from violence deserves a fair case-by-case process. Sessions and Nielsen are trashing our foundational values, our best traditions, and our settled practices without so much as a hearing in Congress.”

In CNN, Tal Kopan highlights,“Trump administration to turn away far more asylum seekers at the border under new guidance”:

Under new guidance given Wednesday to the officers who interview asylum seekers at the US’ borders and evaluate refugee applications, claims based on fear of gang and domestic violence will be immediately rejected. In addition, the guidance tells officers they should consider whether an immigrant crossed the border illegally and weigh that against their claim, potentially rejecting even legitimate fears of persecution if the immigrant crossed illegally.

…Sessions used his unique authority as attorney general last month to overturn an immigration appellate court’s decision to the contrary, reversing course after years of allowing such victims to stay. His decision is now binding for all the immigration judges in the country. But Sessions went further in his decision, suggesting in footnotes to his opinion that the rejection of such claims should come even before immigrants get before a judge and begin their court proceedings. The new guidance from US Citizenship and Immigration Services fully implements those suggestions, instructing the officers who conduct the initial interviews at the border to reject asylum claims based on those fears.

…”When you put it all together, this is his grand scheme to just close any possibility for people seeking protection — legally — to claim that protection that they can under the law,” said Ur Jaddou, a former chief counsel at US Citizenship and Immigration Services now at immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, in reaction to Sessions’ order last month. “He’s looking at every possible way to end it. And he’s done it one after the other.”

And in the New York Times magazine, Sonia Nazario writes, “Do You Care About the Rule of Law? Then Act Like It” (also read for harrowing accounts of the vulnerable people, who will now have no place to turn):

Opponents of immigration have long had one rallying cry: rule of law! But most of the people seeking asylum at the Adelanto Detention Facility followed the law to a T. They presented themselves at ports of entry on our southern border and asked for asylum. The Trump administration seems to be using every tactic possible to prevent them from gaining that asylum, even if they clearly qualify … The Trump administration is not just changing the rules; it’s making a mockery of them.

It is illegal to bar people seeking asylum from our ports of entry, but we have effectively done just that. It is illegal to penalize asylum seekers, but we have criminally prosecuted them for “illegal” entry and violated their rights to due process by taking away their children. Last week, a federal court in Washington ruled that the Trump administration can’t indefinitely lock up asylum seekers who are awaiting a court hearing — but we are continuing to do the same thing to thousands of others. Instead of supporting people running from harm, we have built a machine designed to psychologically break them in the hopes that they will give up and go home.

…These are the people we created the asylum and refugee systems for. After World War II, Americans faced a moral reckoning. We had refused to allow a ship of 900 Jewish refugees to dock at our shores, sending it back to Europe, where more than 250 died in the Holocaust. We ignored a proposal to let 20,000 Jewish children come here. Americans swore: never again. We would not stand by as people died, when we and other countries could help them.

…In the first nine months of this fiscal year, 68,560 families and 37,450 unaccompanied children were apprehended at our southern border. That’s not a “flood.” It’s one football stadium of people. We can afford that level of compassion in this country.

And we don’t even have to depend on compassion, because we have laws — laws that govern the seeking and granting of asylum. The Trump administration is demanding that immigrants follow the law. The least Americans can do is demand the same thing of their government.

You are either for the rule of law, or you’re against it.