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Attorney General William Tong



21 Attorneys General Argue Changes to Asylum Standards Violate Federal Law and Judicial Precedent

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today joined a group of 21 state attorneys general in challenging a cruel Trump Administration policy that arbitrarily denies asylum to immigrants fleeing domestic or gang violence.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Grace v. Barr, before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the AGs argue that former Trump Administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions abandoned longstanding federal law and judicial precedent, undermining the rule of law, when he issued a decision and accompanying policy that effectively barred asylum claims based on domestic or gang-related violence.

"The Trump Administration wants to close our doors to some of the most vulnerable immigrants, who come to this county seeking refuge from life-threatening, horrific violence inflicted by gangs or domestic partners. But arbitrarily denying asylum to victims of domestic and gang violence is a clear violation of federal law and a shameful abandonment of longstanding principles and precedent. We are better than this," said Attorney General Tong.

The District of Columbia and partner states filed this amicus brief in Grace v. Barr. The lawsuit was first filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, the ACLU of Texas, and the ACLU of D.C.

This case started in June of 2018, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a ruling reversing the Board of Immigration Appeals – the federal Executive Office of Immigration Review's appeals court – which had granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman based on her claim of spousal abuse. Sessions broke sharply from existing precedent, deciding that immigration courts should generally reject asylum claims regarding domestic or gang violence. Shortly after, the United States Customs and Immigration Service issued guidelines for implementing the new policy, emphasizing the importance of denying such claims.

U.S. Attorneys General have the power to refer immigration cases to themselves for precedent-making decisions – even though they are also the prosecutors in immigration court – but that problematic power was rarely used under prior administrations.

In December of 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia reversed Attorney General Sessions' ruling as incompatible with existing law. Now, the case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, on appeal by the Trump Administration.

In this amicus 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 bar to 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, that legislation 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 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. Both have dedicated programs and resources to gang violence prevention. Furthermore, in signing the 1967 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the United States vowed to protect individuals escaping persecution. The Trump administration’s policy clashes with these commitments.
• The standards restrict states’ abilities to grow their economies: Immigrants make significant contributions to the economy, and American society more broadly. This is borne out in study after study, and through recent experience nationwide. For example, nearly half of all new residents in the Great Lakes region between 2000-2015 were foreign-born, arriving at a moment when the region’s population growth lagged the national average. This influx of foreign-born residents 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 Trump administration’s standards would limit states’ access to a valuable source of labor.

The brief as filed in Grace v. Barr is available here.

The multistate coalition was led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine and was joined by the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

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