ACLU Press Release

A federal court has struck down Trump administration policies that sought to gut asylum protections for immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies challenged the administration’s new “expedited removal” policies when they were put forth by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. The policies applied to recently arrived immigrants who express fear of returning to their home countries while in summary removal proceedings.

Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC held that the policies, which instructed asylum officers to “generally” deny such domestic violence and gang violence-related claims, violate immigration laws. The court explained that “there is no legal basis for an effective categorical ban” on such claims and granted the request for a permanent injunction against the policies.

“This ruling is a defeat for the Trump administration’s all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers. The government’s attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case.

The plaintiffs include women who have endured extensive persecution in the form of sexual and physical violence. Fearing they would be killed, along with their young children, they sought refuge in the U.S. But under the new policies, even though government officials found the accounts credible, they concluded the women did not have a “credible fear of persecution” and ordered them to be sent back to the countries where they face grave harm.

In his ruling, Sullivan emphasized that “because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the Executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal, the Court finds that those policies are unlawful.”

U.S. law requires that, at a minimum, any newly arrived immigrant who expresses fear of return to their home county be given a screening interview with an asylum officer to determine whether they have a “credible fear of persecution.” Those who pass the credible fear interview are taken out of the expedited removal system and can pursue their asylum claims in full trial-type hearings in immigration court.

“Judge Sullivan’s decision ensures that our asylum system remains open to refugees at our border, including those fleeing domestic violence and gang violence. These individuals raise legitimate claims under U.S. and international law, and have an unequivocal right to seek asylum. I am thrilled that the court’s order upholds that right,” said Eunice Lee, co-legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

The lawsuit is Grace v. Whitaker. Co-counsel are the ACLU, ACLU of Texas, ACLU of D.C., and CGRS.

The ruling is at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/grace-v-whitaker-opinion

More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/grace-v-whitaker