New York

Tri-State Joins Coalition Opposing Trump Administration's Denial of Political Asylum for Gang, Domestic Violence Victims

What to Know

  • The tri-state joined a coalition in an effort to stop the Trump Administration from denying asylum to victims of gang and domestic violence
  • 18 states filed an amicus curiae brief, or "friend of the court" brief, Friday arguing they have a strong interest in the matter
  • In August, the ACLU and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies filed suit to block the new policy from taking effect

The tri-state has joined a coalition in an effort to stop the Trump Administration from blocking immigrants who seek asylum in the United States from domestic or gang violence in their home countries.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Monday the state has joined California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington in an amicus curiae brief filed Friday.

In the “friend of the court” brief, Grewal and other attorney generals argue that the Trump Administration has ignored decades of federal policy and court-decided law that protected asylum-seekers persecuted in their home countries because of their gender, ethnicity or other key personal characteristics.

Based on United States law, immigrants may seek asylum in this country “because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

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However, this past June, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision  to generally preclude asylum “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors.”

Additionally, the new decision made it difficult for asylum applicants to prove to an asylum officer that they have “credible fear” of persecution, Grewal's office said.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies filed suit to block the new policy from taking effect.

An amicus curiae brief is filed by a person or group who is not a party to a case, but has a strong interest in the matter.

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Friday's brief argues that the Trump Administration’s reversal on federal law is harmful because domestic and gang-related violence victims deserve U.S. protection, women and children predominantly suffer from domestic violence and because limiting immigration hurts states.

The multi-state coalition says in its brief that it “has an interest in ensuring that asylum-related protections continue to exist for individuals relocating to their States based on a well-founded fear of persecution due to domestic or gang-related violence,” adding that the states “are home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of whom came to this country through the asylum process. The States recognize the important contribution these immigrants have made to society, and believe that immigrants are vital to their economic success.”

According to Grewal, New Jersey constantly receives a high percentage of asylum seekers with more than 3,000 people living in the state who were granted asylum status between 2012 and 2016.

New Jersey ranks only behind California, New York and Florida in terms of the percentage of asylum grantees it receives.

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“The Administration’s callous policy of closing U.S. borders to refugees who seek asylum due to legitimate fears of being persecuted, physically abused or killed in their home countries must be challenged,” Grewal said in a statement.

“Not only is the policy misguided and cruel, it ignores decades of settled law on this issue. There are asylum-seekers out there – many of them women and children -- living with danger we can’t begin to fathom,” Grewal added.

New York and Connecticut attorney generals did not immediately respond to NBC 4 New York’s requests for comment.

Plaintiffs in the brief include women and children from Central America who sought asylum in the United States from domestic violence and violent persecution by gangs in their home countries.

They allege — as past asylum-seekers have also claimed — that the governments in their home countries were unwilling or unable to protect them from such harm.

NBC 4 New York contacted the Department of Justice for comment. A spokesperson pointed us back to Sessions' initial June statement when he issued the decision to change the policy.

Part of Sessions’ statement said that he did not minimize “the vile abuse” or “the harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world."

"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,’” Session said in his June statement.

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