Many of the immigrants on the U.S./Mexico border are seeking asylum in the United States, fleeing gang violence in their home countries. After a judge’s ruling on Wednesday, the Trump administration can no longer bar their applications based on previous asylum restrictions.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern tweeted the full 107-page ruling from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, from the District of Columbia, which struck down asylum restrictions imposed by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice banning protections for people fleeing gang violence and domestic violence.
An excellent ruling from Judge Sullivan concluding that Jeff Sessions' most noxious immigration policy—a rule barring victims of domestic abuse and gang violence from seeking asylum—is unlawfully arbitrary and capricious. https://t.co/L7kssgv3dI
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) December 19, 2018
Sullivan ruled that the plaintiffs seeking asylum needed “credible fear” protections in order to have their applications considered, and that gang violence and domestic abuse constitute credible fear for asylum.
“Plaintiffs do not seek monetary compensation. The harm they suffer will continue unless and until they receive a credible fear determination pursuant to the existing immigration laws,” Judge Sullivan wrote. “Moreover, without an injunction, the plaintiffs previously removed will continue to live in fear every day, and the remaining plaintiffs are at risk of removal.”
In June, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an interim decision concluding that immigrants seeking asylum for gang and domestic violence would not be afforded protections under asylum laws unless they could meet a nearly impossible standard for danger.
“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” Sessions wrote in the memo. “An applicant seeking to establish persecution based on violent conduct of a private actor must show more than the government’s difficulty controlling private behavior. The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims.”
Many of the immigrants at the border come from unstable Central American countries like Honduras and El Salvador — which is the home of violent street gang MS-13. And as The Conversation reported in 2017, MS-13 is deeply connected with El Salvador’s political establishment. Honduras’ president, in the meantime, depended on drug cartels to win the 2014 election.
In August, prosecutors there showed that El Salvador’s two main political parties had colluded with MS-13 and other gangs, paying them more than US$300,000 for help winning the country’s 2014 presidential election. Party officials allegedly utilized MS-13 to mobilize some voters and suppress others. Still, the attorney general’s office has not indicted party leaders.
Impunity has also undermined criminal justice in Honduras. A Honduran drug cartel kingpin recently told U.S. prosecutors that drug money had financed past presidential campaigns there and may have helped President Juan Orlando Hernández into power in 2014. To date, no official probe has been launched to investigate the alleged links between the current president and Honduran criminal organizations.
Judge Sullivan’s ruling comes on the heels of a group of Republican lawyers filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court challenging the legality of the asylum restrictions. Sullivan also this week admonished former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn from the bench for lying to the FBI on White House premises. As of this writing, President Trump has not yet tweeted or made any official statements challenging Judge Sullivan’s decision, or made any formal appeals to the Supreme Court.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.