#MeToo for Asylum Seekers

Immigrant women seeking refuge from domestic violence are more likely to face deportation under new Department of Justice decision.


HOUSTON: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a legal decision that erodes protections for domestic violence survivors. Through a seldom-used legal procedure, Sessions reversed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ grant of asylum to a Salvadoran domestic violence survivor in a case known as Matter of A-B.

“The issues underlying this decision point to a larger problem which enables violence against women to go under-reported . Imagine suffering abuse and availing yourself of every possible avenue for relief in your home country, but your country fails you. Where would you go?” asks Rachna Khare, executive director of ¬¬Daya Inc, a non-profit that provides services for domestic violence survivors, specializing in South Asian clients.”   

Hana is a survivor whose life was saved because of American asylum laws. She suffered years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by her husband. She described countless nights of being thrown, punched, kicked, and raped even during difficult moments of her pregnancies. Her in-laws witnessed and partook in the abuse.

Hana secured a scholarship at the University of Houston, allowing her and her children to come here legally. Hana was empowered to apply for asylum with the help of a pro bono attorney and Daya. An immigration judge in Houston granted her asylum based on her past persecution as a victim of domestic violence.   

AG Session’s decision means that the United States is more likely to deny asylum to women seeking protection from domestic violence and places doubt on the ability of women to receive protection from any form of persecution inflicted by individuals not acting on behalf of the government.

 “This decision is an attack on women’s rights and the progress we have made in ensuring that violence against women, including rape, is treated as seriously as any other crime,” said Andrea Guttin, legal director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.

Winning an asylum claim is extraordinarily difficult anywhere, and Houston has one of the lowest asylum grant rates in the country. From 2012 through 2017 in the Houston immigration courts, judges have denied 86% of asylum claims because of the complex burden of proof and lack of legal representation for asylum seekers.

“I am outraged by the decision. Jeff Sessions is creating conditions for women and girls who cannot get justice in their own countries, who have fled for their lives, and who are relying on the U.S.’s adherence to international legal standards, to be sent back to face abuse and death,” said Anne Chandler, executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center’s Houston office, which provides free legal representation to asylum seekers.

If Houston is to truly be a welcoming city for all immigrants and refugees, we must recognize the local implications of decisions like this one. The deliberate erosion of the legal asylum system is one that should concern all Houstonians.

For details contact, Kate Vickery, Executive Director, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative at kate@houstonimmigration.org  or Rachna Khare, Executive Director, Daya Inc. at rachna@dayahouston.org or Anne Chandler, Executive Director, Tahirih Justice Center (Houston office) at annc@tahirih.org.