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Trump administration looks to narrow protections for abuse victims seeking asylum

According to U.S. immigration courts, foreign victims of domestic and sexual violence are entitled to seek asylum in the United States, but the Trump administration could make it more difficult. Amna Nawaz talks with Julia Preston of the Marshall Project about why Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking steps to review the legal basis for these asylum cases, and what’s at stake.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From his campaign promises to build a big, beautiful wall, to ordering National Guard troops to the border, President Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a central theme of his presidency.

    Amna Nawaz reports on the administration's efforts to toughen the rules for one group of immigrants: women fleeing from domestic violence.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While there is no evidence of an overall increase in people crossing the southern border illegally, the statistics on who is seeking asylum and why are striking.

    According to the Department of Homeland Security, prior to 2011, single adult males made up more than 90 percent of migrants seeking refuge in the U.S. Today, 40 percent are classified as families and children, many of whom are women who say they are fleeing domestic abuse in their home country.

    For more on that, I am joined by Julia Preston of The Marshall Project.

    Julia, thanks for your time. Welcome.

    And help me understand that number a little bit now. That shift from single adult males to families and children, how do we understand that? What explains it?

  • Julia Preston:

    Well, most of the people who are coming to the border now and seeking asylum are coming from Central American countries, where there's been an epidemic of gang violence, but also where our domestic abuse and sexual abuse of women is quite endemic.

    And so the gang violence and the proliferation of violence in those countries has been driving those numbers. And the people are not coming to the United States to work. They're coming, and in many cases coming to the border and asking for protection, for asylum in the United States.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, specifically when it comes to people who claim that they have a fear based on domestic or sexual violence in their home country, what are the changes that you believe this administration is looking to make? And how would that change the legal landscape?

  • Julia Preston:

    Well, since 2014, because of some case law, the immigration courts have recognized that women who are victims of sustained and very violent sexual and domestic abuse in their home countries can make a claim for asylum, and they have been winning those claims.

    The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has made it pretty clear that he's skeptical that domestic abuse and what he calls private crimes should be the basis of any kind of an asylum claim. And he is undertaking a broad review of the case law and those cases to see if those types of claims should continue to be recognized by the courts.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Julia, you have mentioned this is a part of a pattern with the administration.

    Isn't it within their right to be able to take the steps that they feel see through their mission, which they have made very clear is part of this? They want to reduce the number of people who are seeking asylum here, who are seeking refuge here. Isn't this just part of that mission?

  • Julia Preston:

    Well, certainly, the attorney general has the authority to reach into the immigration courts and pick out cases that he wants to decide for himself.

    And that is what he's doing in this case with these domestic violence cases. I think it's worth talking a little bit about what's going on in these cases, though, which is these women have really suffered sustained abuse.

    So, in the case that I wrote about for The Marshall Project, this was a woman who woke up almost on a daily basis to her husband pulling her hair, punching her in the face, beating her with belts. And she had endured this for many years, going to work with bruises and lacerations on her body visibly.

    And so — and this is the kind of claim that the women are bringing to the immigration courts. And it's not clear, particularly at a moment when sexual abuse and domestic abuse is part of the national dialogue, and where the MeToo movement has had such an impact in workplaces and on women in the United States, it's not clear how curtailing this particular, this narrow avenue that's opened up for these women would actually speed up the process in the immigration courts.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Julia Preston of The Marshall Project, thanks for your time.

  • Julia Preston:

    Thank you.

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