The Trump Swamp is once again proving to be a slurry of xenophobia, sexism and ignorance. As more and more women are seeking asylum from the epidemic of domestic and gang violence in Central America, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking over cases and leading a review to question whether domestic or sexual violence should ever be justification for seeking asylum in the United States.
Sessions took over one case, for example, of a woman from El Salvador who was was granted asylum because her husband repeatedly sexually attacked her, even after she divorced him. Sessions announced he would use the case to determine whether “being a victim of private criminal activity,” such as domestic abuse, could be recognized as persecution that justifies protection in the U.S.
According to Julia Preston of the Marshall Project, Sessions has expressed suspicion of asylum claims based on domestic or gang violence. He told immigration judges last October that asylum was meant to protect people from persecution “based on fundamental things like their religion or nationality.” Evoking the catchword of the alternative facts administration, Sessions said immigration courts were “overloaded with fake claims.”
Sessions seems to be implying that domestically abused women in Central America can simply leave their husbands, seek protection from the police, and remain safe. This reflects a fundamental ignorance of the situation in the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
In these countries, domestic violence has been described as “rampant” and “a pandemic.” It is knotted together with the widespread gang violence in the region, which is home to the highest murder rates in the world. Gangs murder children and adults, then force the surviving family members to join the gang, and subject the women to horrific sexual, physical and psychological violence. The police are often affiliated with the gangs and provide no protection. There is often nowhere for women and their children to go, except to other countries.
One Honduran woman, known as L.C. to protect her anonymity, sought asylum in the U.S. due to this vortex of violence. After L.C.’s daughter witnessed a gang killing eight people, the murderers told L.C. they would kidnap her daughter and sell her into the sex trade if she did not pay them. But what actually convinced the U.S. immigration judge to grant her asylum was the fact that her husband had beaten her with a belt, held a gun to her head, punched her and raped her, for 16 years. She and her daughter are now living peacefully in Chicago.
L.C.’s ordeal is not an isolated incident. The Department of Homeland Security reports that before 2011, more than 90 percent of asylum seekers were single adult males. Today, 40 percent are “families and children,” and the epidemic of violence is one of the main reasons they are seeking refuge.
Sessions has asked lawyers and advocates to comment on this debate, but he’s made it difficult for them to do so because he’s not opening the confidential cases.
In related misogynistic and xenophobic news, Trump announced that he would end “catch and release” – a dehumanizing term for the sensible practice of letting asylum seekers who do not pose a flight risk and have legitimate persecution claims go free until their court date. (Almost all of them show up for court.) Women and children have typically benefited from this practice, which allows them to avoid the trauma of detention, plus saves taxpayers money.
But last week, Trump ordered border patrol to detain almost all asylum seekers, and officials are trying keep women and children in detention instead of letting them return for their court date. Meanwhile, ICE announced it was ending its policy of trying to release pregnant asylum seekers while they await their court hearing.