Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday overturned legal opinions issued under the Trump administration that severely restricted asylum claims based on domestic and gang violence, as well as persecution stemming from family ties.
In overturning decisions made by his predecessors, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, Garland cited an executive order by President Biden that called on authorities to determine whether current asylum policies provide safe haven for victims of gangs and domestic violence “d ‘in a manner that complies with international standards. “
Canceling restrictions could pave the way for a sweeping shift in U.S. asylum policy, as many protection claims by Central American migrants along the southern border cite domestic violence and gangs, which prevalent in parts of the region.
For four years, the Trump administration promulgated several rules, programs and international agreements to restrict access to the U.S. asylum system on the southwest border, arguing that most Central Americans traveling north were uninvited economic migrants. eligible for U.S. humanitarian protection.
Mr. Biden, however, called Mr. Trump’s asylum policies cruel and pledged to restore protection to victims of domestic violence and gangs.
As Attorney General, Garland oversees the Department of Justice immigration courts and their 1.3 million pending cases. Through landmark decisions, the Attorney General also has the power to unilaterally establish rules that govern the adjudication of asylum cases reviewed by U.S. immigration judges and asylum officers.
In a note explaining Wednesday’s ruling, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said Garland’s rulings would allow the Biden administration to address “complex and important issues” regarding US asylum through formal regulations open to the public. public comments.
Mr Biden gave the Justice and Homeland Security departments until October to complete the rules, which are expected to revise the settlement of asylum claims.
“These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our nation’s asylum laws, which reflect America’s commitment to providing safe haven to some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” Gupta wrote.
In a 2018 notice revoked on Wednesday, Sessions ruled that cases “involving domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-state actors” would generally not merit asylum.
The sessions decreed that “private” criminal activity was not a basis for asylum except in “exceptional circumstances”. The decision overturned a 2014 notice of appeal that said women victims of domestic violence could be eligible for asylum under “particular social group” protection under US law.
In order to be eligible for asylum, US law requires applicants to demonstrate that they have suffered persecution because of their race, nationality, political opinion, religion or membership of a “social group.” particular ”.
Garland said Sessions’ opinion included “broad language” that threatened “careful case-by-case adjudication of asylum claims.”
In the other opinion that Garland rejected on Wednesday, Barr ruled that a nuclear family, “in the ordinary case,” would not constitute a “particular social group,” condemning cases of asylum seekers who claimed their persecution arose out of their belonging to a family.
Garland said Wednesday that Barr’s 2019 analysis was “inconsistent” with previous decisions that families may be particular social groups.
The 2019 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Officers guidelines received in the wake of Barr’s notice were revoked last month, according to an internal memo obtained by CBS News.
USCIS did not say whether asylum officers have received any new guidance regarding the resolution of claims involving victims of domestic violence and gangs.
The asylum regulations Mr Biden ordered authorities to draft by the fall are said to define “a particular social group.”
In his memo, Gupta ordered Justice Department lawyers to stop defending Trump-era asylum restrictions in lawsuits brought by immigrant advocates.
Clare Hymes contributed to this report.