Jun 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ ends extreme limits on asylum for domestic violence survivors

Photo of Merrick Garland speaking from a podium with the American flag behind him

Photo: Win McNamee/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Wednesday threw out a Trump-era ruling that essentially blocked access to asylum for immigrants fleeing domestic violence in their home countries.

Why it matters: Violence against women is on the rise in Latin America. "[A]round the world, in Central America and elsewhere, women struggle to have governments ensure, or in some cases recognize, their right to protection," Human Rights Watch writes.

  • "In some countries, criminal law does not adequately address" the issue, leaving rates of domestic violence high and pushing survivors to seek asylum elsewhere, per HRW.

State of play: To gain asylum, migrants have to prove a credible threat of gang violence or persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.

  • A previous court ruling recognized a specific group of domestic violence survivors as eligible for asylum based on membership in a social group, defined as married women in Guatemala unable to leave their relationships.
  • Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions overruled the decision in a case involving an asylum-seeker who made persecution claims based on membership in a similar group: El Salvadoran women unable to leave domestic relationships due to shared children with an abusive partner.

What they're saying: Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated Sessions' ruling on Wednesday, writing in his decision that "the issues should instead be left to the forthcoming rulemaking, where they can be resolved with the benefit of a full record and public comment."

What's next: The Biden administration is expected to release asylum-related regulations or rules this fall, per BuzzFeed.

Go deeper