U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved last week to restore integrity to U.S. asylum law. In a precedent-setting 31-page ruling, Sessions indicated that "Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum."
In recent years, there has been a surge of illegal immigrants entering claims for asylum based on dysfunctional personal relationships, dysfunctional governments in their homelands, and general social breakdown. But as Sessions noted, "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.
Under the Obama administration, mass immigration advocates successfully argued that victims of domestic violence should be considered a "social group," and therefore eligible for asylum. Sessions' ruling narrows the definition of a "social group." In order to qualify for asylum, claimants will now have to demonstrate that being part of an identifiable social group was the reason for their persecution (as the law intended), rather than acquiring social group status as a result of the acts committed against them.
The attorney general's ruling was precipitated by an exponential increase in asylum claims - from 5,000 in 2009 to 94,000 in 2016 - without evidence that circumstances had significantly deteriorated in the sending countries. Sessions did not deny that domestic violence and lawlessness are real problems, but he noted that "Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems - even all serious problems - that people face every day all over the world."
Dan Stein is the president of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform.