Catholic groups deplore law barring asylum for violence victims

Catholic groups have reacted strongly against new law enforcement measures that will prevent asylum seekers fleeing domestic or gang violence applying for protection in the United States.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says US asylum laws cannot be used to remedy “all misfortune.”

This is even in cases where a person may be threatened with violence in another country or “for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances.”

The director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Lawrence E. Couch, spoke out against the law.

He says Sessions’ decision is “inherently hostile and cruel.”

“No longer will the United States of America welcome and protect our vulnerable and abused brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution and brutality.”

In his opinion, Americans are both hopeful and welcoming, and the government is out of sync with Americans’ values.

“The soul of our nation is being tested,” he says.

It appears Sessions has been considering changing the law for some time.

He claimed last year that the asylum system was being abused by people seeking to move to the United States.

This week he released a 31-page ruling reneging on a decision made in 2016 granting asylum to a woman who had been “emotionally, physically and sexually” abused by her husband in El Salvador.

He ruled against her and sent the case back to an immigration judge to order her deportation.

His decisions changing the grounds for granting asylum “strips life-saving protection [from the woman and others] who lack adequate protection and will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country,” Ashley Feasley says.

Feasley, who is the director of policy at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migrant and Refugee Services, added:

“Similarly, this decision could close the door on those fleeing gang violence in their home country from escaping persecution … [and] overrides extensive prior legal precedent.”

The new ruling could affect people coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where gang violence, drug trafficking and other social ailments are rife. People seek asylum because authorities cannot control the violence or guarantee safety.

Just because a country is having difficulty in policing crimes such as domestic or gang violence, or that some populations are more likely to be victims of crime, “cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” Sessions says.

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said Sessions’ ruling “sets a dangerous precedent for other victims of violence, including those who are targeted for their religious beliefs.”

Asylum law “has long recognised that persecution can occur at the hands of entities that a national government is unable or unwilling to control.”

Atkinson says these groups include terrorist organisations like the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Tamil Tigers.

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