Domestic Violence And Immigration: Survivors Want Biden To Reverse Trump Rules Immigrant advocates want those asylum protections restored quickly, erasing Trump-era restrictions. "Women, children, families are being sent back to the very dangers that they fled," one lawyer says.
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Domestic Abuse Survivors Fear Deportation Under Trump Policy Biden Has Yet To Reverse

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Domestic Abuse Survivors Fear Deportation Under Trump Policy Biden Has Yet To Reverse

Domestic Abuse Survivors Fear Deportation Under Trump Policy Biden Has Yet To Reverse

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Biden says he wants to end domestic violence against women. One part of that is restoring asylum protections for migrant women fleeing from abusive partners in countries where authorities won't help them. That hasn't happened yet, though. The administration has been busy dealing with a humanitarian crisis at the border. Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It's been seven years since Cristina left Honduras, but the country is never far from her thoughts.

CRISTINA: (Through interpreter) If I were living in Honduras, then I would no longer exist. They would have already killed me.

ROSE: Cristina is her middle name. We're not using her full name because her asylum case is still pending. Everywhere she turned in Honduras, Cristina faced danger. She says the father of her children physically abused her. Then she says her boyfriend abused her and threatened her daughter. The police in Honduras told her they don't get involved in domestic disputes. Police also did nothing, she says, when her brother and sister were killed. She says a politically powerful family had a vendetta against hers. And when they began to menace her, Cristina took her 9-year-old daughter and fled to the U.S.

CRISTINA: (Through interpreter) My head hurts much of the time. There are times when I can't sleep, thinking about whether they will return me to Honduras. I don't sleep much. I wake up early. Sometimes, I am gripped by insomnia.

ROSE: Cristina and her daughter came to the U.S. in 2014 and requested asylum. But when Cristina finally had a hearing in immigration court a few years later, her claim was rejected. On appeal, the judges cited controversial legal rulings issued by the Trump administration that domestic and gang violence are generally not grounds for asylum. Blaine Bookey is a lawyer at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings, which is representing Cristina in her appeals.

BLAINE BOOKEY: So long as these decisions are on the books, people like our client are being treated unfairly and some women, children, families being sent back to the very dangers that they fled.

ROSE: President Biden has said that he wants to restore asylum protections for domestic violence survivors, part of his broader effort to end domestic violence against women. Biden signed an executive order telling his administration to rewrite the asylum rules, but that process will take months, if not years. Bookey says her client and many other women like her need help now. That's why she and other advocates this week called on Biden's attorney general, Merrick Garland, to step in and immediately vacate the Trump-era rulings on domestic and gang violence.

BOOKEY: This one simple action that Attorney General Garland could take right now could help protect women and families who are turning to the United States for protection.

ROSE: Former President Trump frequently referred to asylum as a scam. Here's his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in 2018.


JEFF SESSIONS: The asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law.

ROSE: Sessions argued that there are some social ills the U.S. just can't fix.


SESSIONS: Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems that people face every day all over the world.

ROSE: In the process, immigrant advocates say, Sessions took U.S. law backwards to a time before women's rights were human rights. Many policymakers in the U.S. had come to agree that domestic violence should be grounds for asylum, at least in some circumstances. But simply rewriting the asylum rules may not be easy.

DAVID MARTIN: It's going to be difficult because the issue is difficult.

ROSE: David Martin was a top lawyer at the Department of Homeland Security and also taught at the University of Virginia School of Law. Martin thinks the recent surge of migrants at the border complicates the situation because the Biden administration doesn't want to encourage more unauthorized migration. Martin says the challenge is to protect vulnerable women who cannot find protection in their home countries while not opening the door too widely.

MARTIN: There's general public support for protection of people who are facing persecution. But it's not unlimited. People get nervous when it looks like it's an uncontrolled system, or there seem to be too many people getting into it.

ROSE: It's hard to tell exactly where Attorney General Merrick Garland stands on this. There's not much in his career as a federal judge to go on. When Garland was asked at his confirmation hearing about the Trump administration's asylum rules, he said he had, quote, "no experience whatsoever" with them. But he did get emotional at that hearing when he talked about how his own family immigrated to the U.S. from Eastern Europe more than a century ago.


MERRICK GARLAND: I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us.

ROSE: Immigrant advocates say many women are also suffering persecution in countries where the police won't protect them from violent partners. That includes the woman known in court papers as Ms. A.B. Former Attorney General Sessions used her case to set the legal precedent about domestic violence and asylum that is still on the books. Ms. A.B. says she didn't want to leave El Salvador, but like so many others, she had no choice.

MS A B: (Through interpreter) We are fleeing the possibility of being assassinated. I was able to escape, but many have died. Many people are no longer around to tell their story.

ROSE: Ms. A.B. is also urging the Biden administration to act quickly. After Attorney General Sessions intervened in her case, her asylum claim was rejected. Her appeal is pending, but time is running out. Joel Rose, NPR News.


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