When domestic violence is no longer grounds for protectionWritten by Piper Stege Nelson
When the U.S. Attorney General says domestic violence and gang violence are no longer grounds for immigrants seeking asylum, what we’re really talking about is gender-based violence. We’re talking about people, mostly women and children, fleeing countries that offer little to no protection from beatings at the hands of intimate partners, long-lasting emotional trauma, and gang rape.
Take for example El Salvador, where the rate for violent death of women is the highest in the world. Gangs rape and kill girls and women as “objects of revenge.” In some countries, abuse and rape are expected facts of life. The only way around it is to seek asylum elsewhere.
At SAFE, we have worked with numerous survivors who have fled violence and abuse in other countries. Survivors like Natalie, who was sexually abused by a family member throughout her teenage years in her home country. She was told not to call the police because it would just make things worse for her and her mother.
Natalie eventually got married and gave birth to a daughter. Her husband was possessive, controlling, and violent. He threatened to kill her and their daughter. The physical violence escalated to the point of strangulation, which our staff recognize as a clear indicator of lethality (people who have been strangled by their partner are 10 times more likely to be killed by them.)
Natalie was afraid for her life and that of her child, so she reported the violence to the police. As she expected, nothing came of it. In fact, after her husband found out, he said that he knew the officers. He said he had paid them to threaten and intimidate her.
Police questioned her. They warned her to stop making false reports or she would be charged and her child would be taken away. She was trapped, terrified, and had a daughter to protect.
It took years for her to seek asylum in the U.S. – to flee a government that didn’t value the lives of women and girls and to escape threats on her life at the hands of her husband. And now that she is here, in the care of SAFE and working with other nonprofits, her future is again uncertain.
A ruling that took effect in 2014 had allowed people experiencing domestic and gender-based violence to seek safety in the U.S. if they were leaving a country where the government would not protect them. As of June 11, the current administration says that gender-based violence is no longer grounds for asylum.
Natalie fled her home country, traveling north through Mexico on her way to the U.S., a trip no one would choose to make except to escape a hopeless and horrifying life and to protect her child. It overwhelmed her and more than once she wanted to end her life, but the thought of leaving her daughter alone was even more unbearable than the excruciating journey.
Once arriving in the U.S., she connected with family members and began living in an unsafe, overcrowded apartment. She was being sexually harassed and began experiencing flashbacks to the violence she was fleeing.
Through her friends – people in similar situations to hers – Natalie heard about an immigration clinic. They connected her with a legal advocacy nonprofit that supports undocumented immigrants.
She was then referred to SAFE. Here, she received shelter, case management, counseling services, and an opportunity to heal in a safe place. She has continued to work with immigration attorneys and remains hopeful that she will be granted asylum.
With this week’s decision to cycle back protections for survivors, the likelihood of Natalie’s asylum is in jeopardy. As the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence puts it, the new policy is “taking us back to an era when domestic violence was considered a ‘private’ matter not meriting government intervention.”
Unless Congress rejects the Attorney General’s decision, thousands of woman and children will be traumatized — some will even lose their lives. These are women and children seeking immigration status and access to safety after decades of experiencing violence and abuse.
Spread the word, contact your lawmakers
Ask your lawmakers to protect victims of gender-based violence and reject the U.S. Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B-. You can find your Representative to the U.S. House here and your Senators here.
Spread the word on social media. Use these sample posts with the hashtags #ProtectSurvivors and #ImmigrantWomenToo.
Sample social media posts
The U.S. Attorney General just issued an alarming decision that undermines hard-won protections for women and girls fleeing domestic violence. Use your voice to stand up for immigrant survivors of gender violence. #ProtectSurvivors #ImmigrantWomenToo
The U.S. Attorney General is attempting to close the door to women and girls fleeing persecution. Domestic violence survivors deserve access to safety & justice. #ProtectSurvivors #ImmigrantWomenToo
Women fleeing life-threatening persecution have a legal right to apply for asylum in the U.S. We must not turn back the clock on protections for #domesticviolence survivors! #ProtectSurvivors #ImmigrantWomenToo