U.S. Limits on Migrant Asylum Protections Challenged by ACLU

(Bloomberg) -- Two civil rights’ groups sued the Trump Administration claiming its deportation fast-track policies are gutting asylum protections for immigrants fleeing domestic and gang violence.

New policies announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions call for officers working with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to generally deny the claims of immigrants seeking asylum, calling their requests purely "personal," according to a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies in federal court in Washington.

As a result, the country’s longstanding protections are being "eviscerated" and the administration is applying a legal standard that ignores protections for immigrants created by Congress, the groups said.

A Justice Department spokesman defended the U.S. policy.

“Our nation’s immigration laws provide for asylum to be granted to individuals who have been persecuted, or who have a well-founded fear of persecution, on account of their membership in a ‘particular social group,’ but most victims of personal crimes do not fit this definition—no matter how vile and reprehensible the crime perpetrated against them,” according to the spokesman’s statement. “The Department of Justice remains committed to reducing violence against women and enforcing laws against domestic violence, both in the United States and around the world.”

The civil liberties groups say that under U.S. law, immigrants who express fear of returning to their home country would be given a screening interview with an asylum officer to determine if they have a "credible fear of prosecution." Those who pass that interview are taken out of the “expedited removal” system and allowed to pursue their asylum claims at a trial-like hearing in immigration court.

Sessions’s policy changes -- which don’t recognize domestic or gang violence as reasons to grant asylum -- mean more people are being immediately deported in what the civil liberties groups call violations of both U.S. immigration law and international refugee law.

"Plaintiffs, and thousands of other immigrants like them desperately seeking safety will be unlawfully deported to places where they fear they will be raped, kidnapped, beaten and killed," according to the suit.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of at least nine immigrants, including a Honduran woman and her husband seeking asylum in the U.S. after surviving a vicious attack by a drug-trafficking gang.

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