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ACLU Demands Courts Protect Refugees Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence After Sessions 'Illegally' Revokes Asylum Rights

"It's clear the administration's goal is to deny and deport as many people as possible, as quickly as possible."

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to end asylum protections for victims of domestic and gang violence. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Calling the Trump administration's decision to end asylum protections for victims of violence one that "betrays our values," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against the government on Tuesday on behalf of several refugees.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in June that victims of domestic and gang violence would no longer qualify for asylum protections, reversing decades of precedent.

"This is a naked attempt by the Trump administration to eviscerate our country's asylum protections," Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. "It's clear the administration's goal is to deny and deport as many people as possible, as quickly as possible."

"Providing shelter, safety, and a new life to the victims of persecution has long been part of our national identity, even if not always an ideal we have lived up to."                 —Cody Wofsky and Katrina Eiland, ACLU

Sessions' decision hinged on his claim that victims of such attacks should not be counted as members of "a particular social group," one of the classifications—along with race, religion, political beliefs, and nationality—that asylum-seekers can claim has made them targets for persecution in their home country.

The danger faced by those fleeing domestic abuse of gang violence is "merely personal," according to the attorney general.

Sessions' belief "reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of domestic violence, harkening back to an era when rape and partner abuse were viewed as private matters as well as of the brutality and scope of gang violence," wrote Cody Wofsky and Katrina Eiland, attorneys with the Immigrants' Rights Project.

"Gender-based persecution has been recognized as a basis for asylum for decades," they added, and victims of violence have long been eligible for asylum if they can credibly claim that their government cannot or will not to protect them.

Representing several plaintiffs in their case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the ACLU and the Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California are arguing in their case that the Trump administration's decision violates the Refugee Act of 1980.

The 12 plaintiffs include a man from El Salvador whose life had been threatened by the gang which controlled his neighborhood and a woman who left Guatemala after years of abuse from her partner.

"Providing shelter, safety, and a new life to the victims of persecution has long been part of our national identity, even if not always an ideal we have lived up to," wrote Wofsky and Eiland. "The Trump administration's effort to eliminate that protection betrays our values and flouts our laws. The courts must step in to stop it."

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