/ Modified jun 17, 2021 6:08 p.m.

DOJ reverses Trump-era restrictions on asylum

Rights groups say the 2018 restrictions made it nearly impossible for survivors of domestic and gang violence to claim asylum.

360 casa alitas art Two children color at Casa Alitas' shelter for migrants and asylum-seeking families on Sept. 30, 2019.
AZPM Staff

A new Department of Justice decision could help survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence gain asylum in the U.S.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a series of Trump-era policies that restricted those protections. Immigrant rights advocates and attorneys say it’s a much needed step in a longer immigration reform process.

Successful asylum claims must prove a credible fear of persecution because of things like race, religion, politics or social group. But in 2018, the case of a woman fleeing abuse from her husband in El Salvador caught the attention of the-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who used the case to disqualify a wide net of asylum claims.

Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council, said Garland’s reversal restores those rights, starting at the border, where asylum officers first meet with immigrants claiming asylum.

"It will affect immigration judges, it will affect the federal courts, who are deciding the appeals. So this announcement from the attorney general is now the law," she said.

An executive order from President Joe Biden tasked his administration with overhauling the asylum process. Goettle said removing the restrictions instated by Sessions puts the system roughly back to where it was before Trump, and applies to cases already in process.

Rocío Castañeda, an advocacy attorney with the legal aid group Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, estimates the Trump-era restrictions impacted hundreds of cases over the last four years.

"We represent clients who have fled brutal violence at their home by their spouse, or gang-based violence from being LGBTQ, or powerful cartels or powerful gangs who are targeting specifically their family unit," she said. "This will have an innumerable impact on many."

Castañeda said the new ruling will be especially important in making appeals for clients whose cases have been denied. The Florence Project is now working on flagging cases that have languished, and re-opening them.

The Biden administration is still using Title 42, a pandemic-era protocol forged under former President Donald Trump, to send the majority of single adults and some families encountered along the border back to Mexico without processing. Though it has introduced programs that allow some vulnerable migrants to bypass Title 42 and claim asylum in the U.S., it has not said when the protocol will stop being used altogether.

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