Joint Press Release: Attorney General Garland Restores Asylum for Women and Families

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has taken another critical step towards restoring access to asylum and welcoming refugees with dignity. This afternoon Merrick Garland vacated three Trump-era Attorney General rulings that gutted asylum protections for people escaping gender-based violence, gang brutality, and persecution against families. Advocates and asylum seekers celebrate this news, which marks enormous progress in the Biden administration’s efforts to rebuild our asylum system.

Between 2018 and 2021 the Trump administration’s Justice Department issued several restrictive rulings that stacked the deck against people seeking asylum. These decisions played a key role in the administration’s broader assault on immigrant communities and women’s rights. In the decision known as Matter of A-B-, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that people escaping domestic violence and gang brutality “generally” should not receive asylum. In the waning days of the Trump administration Acting Attorney General Rosen doubled down on this restrictive approach in another opinion in A-B- and sought to further close the door. Attorney General Barr’s ruling in Matter of L-E-A- made matters worse, undermining protections for people persecuted because of their family relationships.

These decisions were legally flawed and injected unnecessary confusion into the decision-making process, leading judges to wrongly deny protection by prejudging cases, rather than providing each case fair consideration on its own facts. As a result, asylum approval rates plummeted for people escaping persecution perpetrated by members of their families and communities, with a disproportionate impact on women, children, and LGBTQ+ people. Many were ordered deported to their home countries to face the very violence they had fled.

In his decisions today Garland acknowledged that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are currently writing regulations to clarify how these cases should be decided in the future. We urge the agencies to take this opportunity to bring our asylum system into alignment with international human rights standards and the guidance of the UN Refugee Agency, which recognize the right of people escaping gender-based violence and other persecution to seek asylum, and which was Congress’ intent in enacting our asylum laws.

“This was the right move. We are thrilled for our client and for the many deserving individuals fleeing persecution who will have a fair chance to seek refuge in the United States,” said Karen Musalo, Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, or CGRS, and co-counsel in Matter of A-B-. “Now it’s time to build on this progress. We’re ready to work with the administration to create an asylum system that provides every person a fair opportunity to apply for protection, in line with our human rights obligations.”

“Catholic social teaching, international human rights law, and common sense all tell us that the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society,” said Bradley Jenkins, federal litigation attorney at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., or CLINIC, and one of the lawyers representing the asylum seeker in Matter of L-E-A-. “Families facing persecution qualify for asylum under any reasonable interpretation of the law, and it is encouraging to see Attorney General Garland take this step toward restoring the asylum system. We hope that the rulemaking process will result in further progress toward a fair and humane asylum policy.”

“Today’s announcement will help undo some of the damage caused by the Trump administration’s attacks on asylum, and we join with our colleagues in calling on the Biden administration to accelerate and deepen their efforts in this regard,” said Cody Wofsy, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We are proud to have partnered with CGRS in litigating Grace v. Sessions, which blunted the effect of Matter of A-B- in expedited removal cases. Despite that success, A-B- and the other Trump-era ruling reversed today have continued to deprive many people of the protection from persecution that our laws promise. Eliminating those cases is an important step in the right direction.”