Debate 6/26: Importing domestic violence?

Q : Should persons seeking to escape domestic violence be granted asylum in the United States? Another week, and more drama on the immigration front. This past week, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned a decision enacted by the Obama administration that would allow women fleeing domestic violence in foreign countries to be granted […]

U.S. government stance on protecting incoming victims of “private” violence: the debate

By Tim Smith

Q: Should persons seeking to escape domestic violence be granted asylum in the United States?

Another week, and more drama on the immigration front. This past week, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned a decision enacted by the Obama administration that would allow women fleeing domestic violence in foreign countries to be granted asylum in the U.S. The landmark 2014 decision by the United States Court of Immigration Appeals Sessions just overturned established clarity in a long-running debate over whether asylum can be granted on the basis of violence perpetrated in the “private” sphere.

On June 11, Sessions and his office decided victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law. Unlike the federal courts established under Article III of the United States Constitution, the immigration court system is part of Sessions’ Justice Department of the Executive Branch. Sessions’ decision reversed a specific immigration appeals court ruling that granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she had been sexually, emotionally, and physically abused by her husband.

Asylum seekers can make claims that they suffered persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or their particular social group, broadly considered to include people who share a common characteristic that endangers them without governmental protection. Legal scholars have debated its definition, and some groups who have qualified include relatives of dissidents, LGBTQ people, victims of domestic violence and people fleeing violent gangs.

Attorneys General as far back as Janet Reno (1993-2001) have weighed in on the use of the particular social group in asylum cases, without reaching a consensus on how to treat issues like domestic violence. Sessions narrowed the definition when he wrote “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, relatively few asylum seekers are granted permanent entry into the United States. In 2016, for every applicant who succeeded, more than 10 others sought asylum. The process can take months or years, and tens of thousands of people live freely in the United States while their cases navigate through the courts.

Those in favor of Sessions’ widespread immigration reform applauded the decision, citing asylum should only be available where a foreign government has broken down to an extent that there are no functioning domestic governmental institutions. Others cite the current administration’s stance on DACA and border security as justification for the Attorney General’s decision.

Opponents argue that the Sessions decision doesn’t recognize human rights, and many have gone so far as to cite the decision as a women’s rights issue more than an immigration issue. Critics of the ruling include a group of 15 retired immigration judges and former members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, who wrote a letter in response to Sessions’ decision, calling it “an affront to the rule of law.”

Q: Should persons seeking to escape domestic violence be granted asylum in the
United States?

Nay: Charity begins at home

Looking out for number one

By Missy Mae Walters

The U.S. CANNOT save the world with immigration. Period. And despite what many believe, we certainly do not have the superpower to cure the world of domestic violence simply by replanting someone in our country.

Before those on the opposing side of this debate accuse me of being cold-hearted and empty, I’m willing to open myself up here and say that as a child, had there been a shelter in my community, I probably would have lived there. I am not immune to understanding what domestic violence looks like and how horrible it can be but what I certainly am is a realist on how absurd the policy of granting asylum on the basis of domestic violence is.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It occurs regardless of race, economic status, sex, and age around the globe. Even in the U.S. it occurs, and despite the plentiful resources we have, I hate to say it, domestic violence is an incurable problem no matter what country you live in or seek asylum. It is a cycle that often repeats itself in the lives of those inflicting pain and those on the receiving end.

The Obama administration, in their infinite wisdom back in 2016, opened the floodgates to this mess when they began granting asylum to women who cited a personal threat of violence from their partner when applying to enter the United States. The granting of asylum, under our laws, had previously been based on persecution of race, religion, nationality, and membership in a particular group and political opinion. Domestic violence had never previously been included because it had been viewed by previous administrations as an issue of sovereignty.

This issue of sovereignty means we respect the authority of other countries to self-govern and enforce their own laws. In the U.S., some might believe the judicial system of another country does not value the rights of victims of domestic violence but it is not our place to intervene and save them. The U.S. cannot force every country to be responsive to the needs of their own citizens, however unfortunate it may be. We would laugh at another country trying to do the same to us.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one in three (35 percent) of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime. The number of adult women, minus those presently living in the U.S., is nearly 4 billion. No matter how you run the numbers, opening refugee status to a couple of hundred million more people on the basis of domestic violence is only going to create more problems. The Obama administration essentially sought to use this temporary protection as a back door for permanent residency of the applicant.

I am sure the previous administration’s hope was that once these temporary residents established residence in the U.S., how could we send them back?

The U.S. cannot afford to become a battered women’s shelter for every woman in the world who is subject to domestic abuse. Come on, everyone, put on your thinking caps. Asylum for women worldwide based on being a victim of domestic abuse is not financially feasible. Also, how in the world do we know if abuse is actually occurring? Those desperate to flee their home country where opportunities are limited could possibly falsely claim domestic violence to guarantee their refugee status.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the impact of the Obama administration’s policy was significant, when those who cited this new type of “fear of persecution” skyrocketed from 5,000 in 2009 to 94,000 in 2016. Those are incredibly scary numbers when you think of the fact that none of those seeking asylum are paying their own way. The U.S. is footing the bill on everything from food, shelter, and resettlement to any legal proceedings. And I guarantee you a bill is not sent once an individual has successfully established themselves for the services provided. To admit those facing domestic abuse is to admit millions, and then their families.

Again, let’s go back to sovereignty. Domestic violence is an issue to be handled by the police and security agencies within the individual’s own country. We all know there are no perfect systems throughout the world. But we cannot and should not be the world’s police in fixing another country’s laws.

For those who are passionate about helping women trapped in domestic violence in foreign countries, I would challenge you to pack up your belongings, join a non-profit organization focused on women or a foreign service organization such as the Peace Corps and work on ground-zero to help women in foreign countries instead of importing the problem here.

Better yet, help women in your very own community. Domestic violence combined with the drug epidemic has greatly increased the needs of shelters locally. Our very own YWCA shelter in downtown Dayton, which has been going strong since 1977, does a very fine job of helping women and children trying to escape their abusers. I guarantee they would appreciate even more community support, both financially and with volunteers.

As a country, we need to continue working to save our own rather than creating another self-inflicted domestic crisis.

Yay: Gimme Shelter

Sessions’ Lack of Humanity is Appalling

By Marla Boone

Who knows what happened to Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his formative years to turn him into such a smug, self-righteous bloviating ass. But here is what did NOT happen to him. No one repeatedly punched him in the mouth. No one poured paint thinner over him in quantities sufficient to cause burns. No one raped him. No one threatened to kill him if he sought legal redress. How do I know this? Because if he had suffered one or some or all of these insults against his person or his psyche he would be a hell of a lot more empathetic to the plight of domestic violence victims.

Sessions reversed an immigration appeals court ruling granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who endured years of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse at the hands of her husband. Sessions has the power to do this because unlike the federal courts established under Article III of the Constitution, the immigration court system is part of the Justice Department of the Executive branch.

Asylum has long been the hope—sometimes the singular hope—of those who have been the unfortunate recipients of persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or their particular social group. The working definition of social group in this usage is “people who share a common characteristic that endangers them without government protection.”

If there ever were “people who share a common characteristic that endangers them without government protection” it is the women of Latin America. According to a U.N. study, in Guatemala the incidence of spousal abuse is 18%. Child marriage is rampant, with 30% of girls forced into early marriage by their parents. In El Salvador, 26% of wives are the victims of domestic violence. 26% of girls find themselves married at ages ranging from 14-18 with the expectation they will immediately begin bearing children. Fact-finding missions sponsored by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC) came away with the sobering statistic that 31% of women in El Salvador are subjected to physical violence by age 18. El Salvador holds the unsavory reputation as being among the world’s deadliest countries for women and ranks first in Latin America. In 2016, nearly 1 in 5,000 women were killed by their “lifetime partner.” Things aren’t much better in Guatemala where two women a day are murdered. 40,000 complaints are registered every year. The volume of unreported abuse is merely speculated upon.

Women in these countries are under tremendous physical, psychological, and religious pressure to remain in their marriages. Even when women do find the courage and resources to report their abusive spouses, little is done. Laws have been enacted but the very parlance of these laws demonstrates just how dire the situation is. El Salvador finally adopted legislation in 1996 that addressed the criminality of domestic violence. But it wasn’t until years later the law was revised to contain the wording that the code’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape. To quote the director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, “Due to deep-seated discriminatory norms, inadequate implementation, and insufficient funding” laws are not effectively enforced.

Domestic violence, again citing the IRBC, is regarded by police as a private matter. Law enforcement officers are slow to answer domestic violence calls and sometimes fail to respond at all. Many police officers do not see violence against women as a serious crime. Authorities who receive domestic violence complaints often fail to refer them for investigation. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission added, “The police force is understaffed and notoriously corrupt.”

After domestic violence laws were passed in Guatemala the number of murders continued to grow. Exactly two women’s shelters exist in Guatemala City. One houses 20 people, the other 40. There are 8.8 million women in Guatemala. 1.6 million of them are battered. There simply is no or little succor, no “government protection,” if you will, for this “social group” in these countries. This “social group” is often illiterate, grossly under-represented, financially dependent, and utterly without recourse. The CGRS found the rate of impunity with abusers is a staggering 98%. Judges exhibit bias against women. The pattern in the courts is to urge conciliation of conflicts (i.e., women are encouraged to return to the abusive environment) rather than seeking to protect the victims. In the rare event of a jail sentence being handed down, the punishment is frequently commuted. Men are allowed to pay a fine to avoid incarceration.

Jeff Sessions decided “asylum should be available only where a foreign government has broken down to an extent there are no functioning government institutions.” As far as victims of domestic violence are concerned, the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala have broken down. There are no reliably functioning government institutions to which these victims can turn within their own countries. 640 members of the United Methodist Church, Sessions’ own, issued a formal complaint charging Sessions’ stance on immigration violates church rules. Fifteen retired immigration judges and former members of the Board of Immigration Appeals wrote a letter, calling Sessions’ precept “an affront to the rule of law.” This is only partially correct. It is an affront to humanity.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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