Sessions' Power Grab on Immigration Rules

Image Credit: Donkey Hotey

On March 5, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the unusual step of vacating a 2014 ruling of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) explains, “In this case, the immigration judge decided that an asylum applicant’s claim did not deserve a merits hearing. Instead of a hearing at which he would have had the opportunity to testify, present witnesses, file evidence, and present legal arguments, the immigration judge simply denied the case on the written application alone. The case was appealed and the BIA concluded that all asylum applicants have a right to a hearing, and remanded the case back to the immigration judge for that purpose.”

The Board of Immigration Appeals serves as the appellate court for immigration proceedings, which operate parallel to the federal court system. The Attorney General has the authority to review BIA decisions, and in doing so Sessions seems intent on pressing his authority to the limit. As Tal Kotan, writing for CNN, notes, “The attorney general has the authority to refer any Board of Immigration Appeals decision to his or her office for review, and can single-handedly overturn decisions and set interpretations of immigration law that become precedent followed by the immigration courts.” The danger is obvious. Sessions has repeatedly shown himself willing to use his office to limit the rights of immigrants, especially those who seek asylum.

In addition to the above mentioned case, Sessions is also reviewing another asylum case involving the rights of women seeking asylum as they flee situations of domestic abuse.  Sessions has requested interested parties to submit briefs on the questions, “Whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable ‘particular social group’ for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.” The framing of the questions leaves open the possibility that Sessions could vacate rulings regarding migrants fleeing gang violence and other criminal activity perpetuated by non-state actors. This would clearly have a dramatic impact on asylum claims from people fleeing violence in Central America and many other areas.  

The continued infringement on the rights of people seeking asylum must end. The long-term impact of Sessions ruling remains unclear. However, his effort to exert unilateral authority to shape immigration law is a frightening precedent.

Read more about this case on TASSC’s blog.

For more information on the ongoing asylum review, see CNN.

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