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'Horrific': Sessions Says Survivors of Domestic and Gang Violence Will No Longer Qualify for Asylum

"In what world does the United States turn its back on people who have suffered persecution, trauma, and extreme distress from domestic or gang violence?"

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a press conference at Border Field State Park on May 7, 2018 in San Ysidro, California. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

In just the latest addition to the Trump administration's mounting collection of "cruel" policies aimed at closing off the nation to refugees and asylum-seekers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a new Justice Department guidance on Monday declaring that migrants will no longer automatically qualify for asylum if they present concerns of domestic abuse or gang violence.

"In what world does the United States turn its back on people who have suffered persecution, trauma, and extreme distress from domestic or gang violence?" said Denise Bell, a researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA. "Today's decision is a direct assault on people seeking protection, especially families fleeing persecution in Central America."

"This is horrific," tweeted one observer. "This is plain cruel," responded Gavin Newsom, California's lieutenant governor. "A disgrace," concluded a law professor. "Can they go any lower?" remarked Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

"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' guidance (pdf) states. "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."

Sessions first revealed that he would release the revised asylum policy during a speech to the nation's immigration judges on Monday. In the address, he claimed "the asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, and public safety," and that "the vast majority of the current asylum claims are not valid."

But immigrants rights advocates pointed out that the asylum process is already incredibly difficult, and now it will be even harder for those fleeing violence to seek protection.

Those assertions followed an earlier decision, as CNN explained, to use "a little-known authority to refer immigration cases to himself for review, allowing him to almost single-handedly direct how immigration law is interpreted in this country."

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