Joint Press Release: Advocates and Asylum Seekers Urge Swift Action From Garland to Protect Women and Families Seeking Asylum

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — Earlier today immigration advocates, domestic violence experts, and asylees gathered on a press call to discuss Trump’s shameful legacy on asylum and urge Attorney General Merrick Garland to restore protections for women and families fleeing persecution and torture. While President Biden has pledged to build our asylum system back better, some of the previous administration’s cruelest policies remain in effect even as the president’s 100th day in office approaches. These include restrictive Justice Department opinions that continue to undermine access to asylum for people escaping domestic violence and other human rights violations.

Attorney General Garland has the authority to immediately vacate these backwards Trump-era rulings and ensure that women and families are not wrongly denied protection on the administration’s watch. With the stroke of a pen, Garland can restore some fairness to the asylum process and protect countless lives.

Blaine Bookey, Legal Director, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) (moderator) said,

“The result of the Trump Justice Department’s decisions has been devastating. Asylum grant rates have plummeted and the U.S. government has ordered refugees deported to the very dangers they narrowly escaped, placing them in harm’s way and tearing families apart. Fixing our asylum system, which was obliterated by the Trump administration, will take time. We’re ready to hold the Biden administration accountable to its promise to build back better. But in the meantime, with these Trump-created barriers still intact, lives are at risk. We call on Attorney General Garland to take immediate action to restore a fairer process, keep families together, and save lives.” 

Karen Musalo, CGRS Director and Professor of Law at UC Hastings, said,

“Attorney General Garland has a moral imperative to take action, and there is clear precedent for him to do so. The Justice Department rulings we have requested him to vacate are wrong on the law, and counter to our international human rights obligations. They attempt to roll back decades of hard-won progress for desperate refugees seeking protection. The stakes could not be higher. Vacating Matter of A-B-Matter of L-E-A-, and Matter of A-C-A-A- will mean the difference between life and death for courageous individuals who look to the United States for protection.”

“The Biden administration has pledged to restore asylum for people fleeing domestic violence and other human rights violations, and to issue regulations to align the U.S. with international norms. In the meantime, Attorney General Garland should not permit unlawful Trump-era decisions to control the fate of those fleeing persecution.”

Sarahi*, Asylee and Advocate, Pangea Legal Services, said,

“I left my country after being mistreated for being a woman for decades. I had to make the difficult decision to leave my life behind to come to the United States, because I could not find protection there, as our government offers no help whatsoever to women. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to me if I had been sent back like the Trump administration would have wanted. I honestly do not think I would be alive to tell the tale.”

“I hope that the Biden administration will keep its promise to protect women like me. Attorney General Garland please listen to our voices. The actions you take or decide not to take are a matter of life or death. All I want is for other women and families like me to be able to live in peace.”

Jehan Laner Romero, Co-Director and Immigration Attorney, Pangea Legal Services, added, 

“Sarahi’s story of fleeing violent abusers without protection in her home country represents the reality facing many of Pangea’s other clients, who fled gender-based violence only to have their asylum cases caught in Trump-era policies putting them at risk of being deported back to their persecutors. As Sarahi explained, the Attorney General’s actions over asylum cases are a matter of life or death. It is imperative that the Attorney General rescind these dangerous rulings and restore fairness to our asylum system.”

Bradley Jenkins, Federal Litigation Attorney, CLINIC, said,

“Former Attorney General Barr issued a legal opinion declaring that a family is only deserving of asylum if the family is important and that ordinary families are unlikely to be important enough to deserve protection. As people of faith, we cannot stand by while our government attempts to codify the idea that families aren’t important to society into the law.”

“By returning to pre-Trump asylum policies that were followed by administrations of both parties for 35 years, Attorney General Garland has the opportunity to do no harm while the Biden administration articulates a fairer, more humane refugee policy of its own.”

Nancy Lemon, Lecturer in Domestic Violence Law, Berkeley Law and Legal Director, Family Violence Appellate Project, said,

“Trump’s attack on survivors was an affront not only to our asylum system, but to women’s rights more broadly. Domestic violence is an epidemic rooted in gender conditioning and patriarchal norms. The Trump administration’s views were antiquated and dangerous, and they absolved governments of their responsibility to protect survivors. Amidst a global surge in domestic violence exacerbated by conditions created by COVID-19, it is more important than ever that the United States extend protection to those whose own governments have failed them. We implore Attorney General Garland to immediately vacate the Matter of A-B- and Matter of A-C-A-A- opinions.”

Blanca*, Asylee and Member Leader, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, said,

“All human beings have the right to live free from violence. Domestic violence is not a private matter, as Jeff Sessions said in 2018. To suggest that is an expression of patriarchal power justifying violence against us, just like my abuser and the government in my home country did. That is why it is urgent that Merrick Garland fulfill the promise of the Biden administration to protect women and children fleeing domestic violence.”

“I fled my home in Guatemala to save my life and my children’s. Thankfully we won our asylum case years ago. Now that I am safe and secure in my status, I have become a leader and advocate myself. I am here in this fight so that women like me receive the protection they deserve.”

*Name changed or truncated to protect anonymity