Former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said today that domestic and gang violence will generally not be considered grounds for asylum as the Trump administration overturned asylum protections for domestic violence victims. The decision could affect thousands of asylum seekers from Central America.

Sessions ruled in a Board of Immigration Appeals case involving a woman from El Salvador whose asylum status was upheld in 2016 on claims her husband repeatedly abused her “emotionally, physically and sexually.” Sessions’ decision sets a high bar for victims of crime to qualify for asylum protections.

Asylum is granted on grounds of persecution for race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or membership in a social group. Many victims of domestic and gang violence seek protection on grounds of being in a persecuted social group.

“The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” Sessions wrote in a formal legal opinion, exercising his authority to overturn decisions by federal immigration judges. “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”