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August 2, 2019


Raoul, 20 Attorneys General Argue Changes to Asylum Standards Violate Federal Law and Judicial Precedent

Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a group of 21 state attorneys general, today filed an amicus brief challenging the federal government’s changes to asylum standards. If implemented, the changes would allow the executive branch to arbitrarily deny asylum claims to immigrants seeking haven from domestic or gang violence.

Raoul and the coalition filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit supporting the plaintiffs in Grace v. Barr. In the brief, Raoul and the attorneys general argue that the stringent revisions implemented in 2018 – which would effectively bar asylum claims based on domestic or gang-related violence – contradict longstanding federal law and judicial precedent, and undermine the rule of law.

“The federal government’s revised asylum standards violate federal law. But more importantly the new standards deny safety to individuals and families who are quite literally fleeing from violence in their home countries to save their lives,” Raoul said. “I will continue to join my fellow attorneys general to fight this administration’s cruel, arbitrary anti-immigrant policies.”

The lawsuit was initially filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, the ACLU of Texas, and the ACLU of D.C., in response to a policy former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in his June 2018 decision in Matter of A-B-. In Matter of A-B-, Sessions overturned the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) decision to grant a Salvadoran woman asylum based on her claim of spousal abuse. In his ruling, Sessions broke sharply from existing precedent to argue that the BIA should reject asylum claims based on domestic violence or gang violence. Shortly after, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued guidelines for implementing this policy, emphasizing its denial of such claims.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the change in December 2018, ruling it is incompatible with existing law. The Department of Justice is now appealing the ruling.

In the brief, the states collectively argue that the district court’s decision to reject the administration’s heightened standards should be upheld, on the basis that:

  • The standards violate established federal law: A near categorical rejection of asylum claims based on domestic or gang violence, as Matter of A-B- recommends, would illegally prevent victims of such violence from attaining asylum protection. The asylum process is rooted in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Among other things, the law makes it legal for anyone who arrives at the U.S. border to apply for asylum over a “well-founded fear of persecution” in one’s home country. Subsequent court cases have validated the legitimacy of claims made based on gang violence or domestic violence.

  • The standards are inconsistent with state, federal, and international policies protecting victims of violence: All 50 states have enacted provisions in their criminal and civil codes to protect victims of domestic violence, and the federal government has acknowledged the need to assist immigrant women who have been victimized by domestic violence. Federal and state governments have dedicated programs and resources to gang violence prevention. Furthermore, in signing the 1967 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the U.S. vowed to protect individuals escaping persecution, and the new policy runs counter to that commitment.

  • The standards restrict states’ abilities to grow their economies: Immigrants make significant contributions to the economy and to the nation more broadly. Nearly half of all new residents in the Great Lakes region between 2000 and 2015 were born outside the U.S., arriving at a time when the region’s population growth lagged the national average. The influx of immigrants boosted jobs and wages in the region. Given that the majority of asylum grantees are of working age and can contribute to a state’s economic activity, the proposed standards would limit states’ access to labor.

Joining Raoul in filing the amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.


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