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Getting Asylum Just Got Harder For Houston’s Immigrants

An overruling by Attorney General Jeff Sessions narrows the situations that make for a winning asylum case

Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a roundtable meeting on sanctuary cities hosted by President Trump earlier this month

Attorney General Jeff Sessions overruled a Board of Immigration Appeals decision that granted asylum to victims of domestic abuse from Guatemala.

The decision narrows the situations that make for a winning asylum case.

In the written decision, Attorney General Sessions said, “I understand that many victims of domestic violence may seek to flee from their home countries to extricate themselves from a dire situation or to give themselves the opportunity for a better life. But the ‘asylum statute is not a general hardship statute.'”

The overruling will especially affect victims of domestic abuse said Geoffrey Hoffman, Director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center.

“Going forward people who are going to try to ask for asylum on the basis of being abused by a domestic abuser are going to have a very difficult time to prove those claims,” said Hoffman. 

Tens of thousands of cases nationwide could be affected, Hoffman said, including the asylum cases of families currently being separated at the border.

“It will have a very, very dire effect on asylum applicants across the board, or at least someone who has a private actor who is the persecutor,” said Hoffman.  

However, Hoffman said the legal battle isn’t over. He suspects Session’s overruling will likely be challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and could make it to the Supreme Court. 

For now, the decision hits especially hard in Houston, where asylum is rarely granted in local courts. 

Between 2012 and 2017, immigration judges in Houston denied asylum in 87.1% of their cases.

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