Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making it more difficult for victims of domestic violence and other crimes to receive asylum in the U.S., a move that could increase a backlash that the Trump administration already faces over its immigration crackdown, Politico reports. A ruling issued by Sessions narrows the grounds for asylum for victims of “private crime” and will cut off an avenue to refuge for women fleeing to the U.S. from Central America. “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions said. The legal guidance is the Trump administration’s latest step in a broader drive to rein in undocumented immigration. In early May, the administration began to refer all people suspected of crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution, a move that increased the likelihood of family separation.
Trump frequently describes the asylum system as rife with “loopholes” that draw migrants to the U.S. from Central America. The administration seeks to revise human trafficking laws and override court decisions that prevent the swift removal of thousands of children and families who arrive at the southwest border each month. In his ruling Monday, Sessions brushed aside critics who argued that he should recuse himself because he has been a vocal public advocate for a crackdown on undocumented immigration and for limiting grants of asylum. Asylum seekers must prove they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country. The fear must be based on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The Board of Immigration Appeals ruled in 2014 “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” constitute a social group under the standard, a ruling that Sessions overrode.