Even as he cozied up to an evil dictator who routinely murders, starves and imprisons his own people, President Donald Trump’s White House made its own brutal tweak to America’s immigration policy.
In a policy memo chilling in its banality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that victims of domestic and gang-related violence will no longer be eligible for asylum in the United States.
The Alabaman said he’d made the move to break up a backlog of immigration-related cases in federal court. Its practical effect is far more cold-hearted.
“Claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote.
“While I do not decide that violence inflicted by non-governmental actors may never serve as the basis for an asylum or withholding application based on membership in a particular social group, in practice such claims are unlikely to satisfy the statutory grounds for proving group persecution that the government is unable or unwilling to address,” Sessions wrote. “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes - such as domestic violence or gang violence - or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”
As The Washington Post reports, there is a backlog of more than 700,000 immigration cases in federal court, But that number includes all cases - not exclusively asylum cases. Moreover, the number of people who received asylum in 2016 was about what it was in 2010. And, excluding 2010, it was lower than any other year since 1995, The Post reported.
In the face of that data, the only reasonable conclusion is that the administration made the policy change because of its manic focus on dismantling the legacy of former President Barack Obama, whose administration instituted the asylum policy in 2016.
This act of tragic, if entirely unsurprising, callousness now means that tens of thousands of would-be immigrants, some fleeing the very MS-13 violence the administration has sworn to combat, are now on their own.
If you’ll recall, in his first State of the Union address, Trump told the parents of some MS-13 victims that the the nation was “praying” for them.
And as Fox News reports, the Republican administration has since made targeting the gang, which boasts tens of thousands of members across Central America and several U.S. states, a top priority.
“Fighting MS-13 animals - 500 days of American greatness,” the administration perversely boasted in a June 4 tweet.
And in February 2017, buttressed by an executive order, Sessions gave law enforcement and federal prosecutors wide latitude to fight the gang.
The move outraged Democrats and immigration advocates - some of whom are even conservative fellow travelers.
“We are all about women in this #MeToo era - as long as they’re U.S. citizens, white, fairly privileged women in Hollywood or on Wall Street,” Christine Flowers, a Philadelphia-based conservative columnist and immigration attorney said. “However, if it’s a poor mother from El Salvador who has been beaten by her husband, who is a probable gang member ... we aren’t too worried about her second-class status. This decision is an assault on our values.”
And that’s what this is really about.
The new Justice Department policy shift is odious enough on its own. But when it’s taken as a piece of this administration’s ongoing retreat from America’s role as both a political and moral leader on the world stage, it’s particularly repellent.
Last month, for instance, the administration outright lied and blamed Democrats for a nonexistent law it claimed required the breakup of immigrant families caught at the border.
As Vox reports, there’s also no policy requiring immigration officials to break-up families. Illegal border-crossers are supposed to be criminally prosecuted. And when one of them is a family, the break-up is the inevitable byproduct.
But it has had tragic consequences, both for children and adults. One distraught Honduran man, for instance, committed suicide after being parted from his family.
And while this bluster and cruelty may lie at the core of Trumpian values. They’re not American values. Not by a long shot. And by the time most Americans realize what they’ve lost, it may be too late.