Asylum is a right enshrined in international human rights law. The underlying principle is non-refoulement doctrine, which prohibits nations from returning asylum seekers to a country in which they are in danger. The Trump administration is not just ignoring but explicitly rejecting this fundamental tenet of human rights law. A recent ruling may change that.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions slashed the types of threats that could qualify as bases for credible fear—a prerequisite for asylum—in a June 2018 opinion entitled the Matter of A-B. Sessions held that neither domestic violence nor gang violence could be accepted as a cause of credible fear. In other words, Sessions made clear the Trump administration will not only not comply with non-refoulement doctrine, but disregard the Immigration and Nationality Act, which requires individualized analysis of asylum seekers’ cases. The result: Multiple lawsuits challenging Trump over his asylum policy.
Twelve unnamed plaintiffs—suing under pseudonyms—won a critical victory in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday. Their stories illustrate just how obscene the policy they’ve temporarily toppled is. Titular plaintiff “Grace,” for instance, was fleeing from a partner who abused and assaulted her—and later her children—for more than two decades.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s opinion runs to 107 pages, and it nullifies Matter of A-B. The court rejected almost all of Sessions’ attempts to narrow eligibility for asylum. Specifically, Sullivan called Sessions’ rule “arbitrary and capricious” and determined that making asylum decisions en masse using categories—i.e., people whose fear is based on domestic or gang violence—violates the INA.
The opinion’s tone is moderate, but the condemnation of the administration is unmistakable. Case in point: The court draws a distinction between “the will of Congress,” which reigns supreme when it comes to legislation, versus “the whims of the Executive.”