Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are less than 72 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign and our independent journalism needs your help today.
If you value our work, please support Common Dreams. This is our hour of need.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

migrant mom and child

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the Trump administration's policy that sought to prevent victims of domestic and gang violence from immediately qualifying for asylum. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Judge Strikes Down Trump DOJ's "Attempt to Obliterate Asylum Protections" for Victims of Domestic and Gang Violence

"The court saw these policies for what they are: illegal, and incompatible with our values."

Jessica Corbett

In what the ACLU called "another defeat for the Trump administration's all-out assault on the rights of asylum-seekers," a federal judge on Wednesday struck down much of a "horrific" U.S. Justice Department guidance issued by ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June which declared that migrants fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence would no longer automatically qualify for asylum.

"The government's attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country's longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives."
Jennifer Chang Newell, ACLU

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for D.C. detailed in his ruling (pdf) how the administration's "new credible fear policies are arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the immigration laws."

In addition to permanently blocking the guidance, Sullivan also ordered the federal government "to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations" that align with national immigration legislation.

In other words, the court found that "the government's attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country's longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives," as Jennifer Chang Newell of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, who argued the case, put it.

"Judge Sullivan's decision ensures that our asylum system remains open to refugees at our border, including those fleeing domestic violence and gang violence," added Eunice Lee, co-legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which joined the ACLU in the case. "These individuals raise legitimate claims under U.S. and international law, and have an unequivocal right to seek asylum."

The guidance issued by Sessions—who was forced out by President Donald Trump hours after the midterm elections and replaced with Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker—had been denounced by immigrant rights advocates, legal experts, and dozens of Democratic lawmakers as not only cruel, but in clear violation of U.S. and international law. Sullivan's ruling comes as the Trump administration is engaged in a multi-pronged effort to curb all forms of migration at the U.S. southern border.

"This administration has engaged in a years-long attack on the asylum system, designed to punish refugees in order to score cheap political points," declared the group Human Rights First. "We're glad that today the court saw these policies for what they are: illegal, and incompatible with our values."

"Survivors of domestic violence and gang violence have already been terrorized at home and have made the dangerous journey to the U.S. to seek protection. They have the right to seek protection in the United States as they flee to escape violence, trauma, and extreme danger in Central America," Tarah Demant, director of Amnesty International USA's Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program, said in a statement.

"The U.S. government was wrong to turn its back and unlawfully deport them under this dangerous policy, which we know can mean life or death for many," Demant added. "In light of this ruling, the U.S must allow others to return they can finally seek the protection they need before it's too late."

While celebrating the court victory in D.C., the advocacy group United We Dream pointed to federal agents firing rubber bullets and tear gas at migrants last month, and reiterated its call that Congress defund two key agencies overseen by the Department of Homeland Security: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

This post has been updated with comment from Amnesty International USA.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·

Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·

Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·

Grave Warnings as Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Threatens 'Future of Voting Rights'

"Buckle up," implores one prominent legal scholar. "An extreme decision here could fundamentally alter the balance of power in setting election rules in the states and provide a path for great threats to elections."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biden Urged to Take Emergency Action After 'Disastrous' Climate Ruling by Supreme Court

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but "we cannot accept defeat."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo