The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says it is suing US Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his treatment of would-be asylum seekers.
The civil liberties organization tweeted today that it would sue Sessions for “illegally denying asylum protections to immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality.”
The group said that “these policies undermine the fundamental human rights of women and violate decades of settled asylum law.”
The ACLU did not respond immediately to a request for comment. This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
The Lawsuit Hinges On Sessions’ Controversial Definition of What an Asylum Seeker Is
Asylum seekers are protected by international law, under a 1951 United Nations convention which was signed — albeit in a limited way — by the United States. Asylum law is a bit complicated and can be subject to differing interpretations. Asylum seekers are in a different category than most immigrants, since asylum seekers are people who leave their own country because of “well-founded fear of being persecuted” in their own homes. This puts asylum seekers in a different category than people who leave their country in search of jobs, or education, or a better life for their children.
However, the definition of asylum is vague enough that people tend to argue over what, exactly, asylum really means.
According to the United Nations Convention on Refugees, an asylum seeker is
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
But each country creates their own, more precise definition of what an asylum seeker is. The United States signed only the “protocol” of the United Nations refugee convention, back in 1968, which means that the US is generally subject to the law but has a bit of wiggle room.
The ACLU Says It’s Suing on Behalf of A Woman named Grace and Other Asylum Seekers
The ACLU says that a woman named Grace fled her home in Guatemala after she was raped and beaten by her partner. She came to the US and requested asylum, saying that she was afraid for her life. Her request was denied, based on Sessions’ assertion that cases of “private” violence cannot be used in asylum claims.
The ACLU maintains that Grace has what is known as a “credible fear” of being seriously harmed if she were to return home — and, the group says, that means that she has a case to be considered for asylum. The group wrote, “By applying these broad and unjustified changes to the credible fear process, the government is attempting to subvert decades of settled asylum law and setting up asylum seekers like Grace to fail.”
Sessions Said that The Obama Administration Made It Too Easy For People To Seek Asylum — And He Changed the Law To Make It Harder
Jeff Sessions argues that the Obama administration made it far too easy for people to seek asylum in the US. He said that administration created “powerful incentives” for people to “come here illegally and claim a fear of return.”
In a ruling in June, Sessions wrote that people were now claiming asylum for cases of “private violence” — like domestic violence, or gang-related violence. Sessions said that such cases would no longer be treated as asylum cases. “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,” he wrote. “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”
In other words, Sessions argued that the definition of “asylum seeker” should be narrower and should not include people who flee their country because they have suffered domestic violence, or because they are afraid of gang violence.
The ACLU Says Sessions’ Policies Undermine Basic Human Rights
The ACLU announced this evening that it will sue Sessions over his narrow definition of asylum. The group said Sessions is “illegally denying asylum protections to immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality.” And, the ACLU says, this amounts to a violation of human rights, especially for women who are impacted by domestic violence.
The ACLU tweeted that “these [Sessions’] policies undermine the fundamental human rights of women and violate decades of settled asylum law.”
The ACLU Has Called Sessions’ Immigration Policies “Cruel” and Accused Him of a “Lack of Empathy”
The ACLU is not a big fan of Jeff Sessions’ immigration and asylum policy. The group has accused him of lying, cruelty, and a plain lack of empathy in the recent past. So perhaps this lawsuit does not come as a big surprise.
In June, the ACLU’s Jenny Samuels, a staff writer with the organization, wrote a blog in response to an interview Sessions had given about asylum policy. The ACLU charged that Sessions was resorting to “outright lies” to defend his controversial policies. The group called Sessions’ policies “cruel” and accused him of a lack of empathy when it comes to the government’s policy of separating families at the US-Mexico border.