Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed a decision by a Justice Department immigration appeals court yesterday, saying that domestic violence is not legal grounds for asylum.
The court had originally given asylum to a woman from El Salvador who had been raped by her husband.
There are five different categories in the U.S. that can qualify for asylum - race, religion, nationality, political affiliation and persecution for membership in a social group.
According to The Board of Immigration Appeals, in December 2016, the woman belonged to what the system calls a "particular social group," qualifying her for asylum based on the fact women in El Salvador are often unable to leave violent relationships because their government is unable to protect them.
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” he wrote in his decision.
Sessions said that the departments "particular social group" category is not defined specifically enough.
"Saying a few simple words - claiming a fear of return - is now transforming a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing," Sessions said at a training event for immigration judges. "This is a large part of what has been accurately called 'catch and release.'"
Immigration courts are under the Justice Department, meaning Sessions can refer these cases to himself and then overturn any of the previous decisions.
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