Feminists are Fighting the Trump Administration’s Deadly Immigration Policies

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote that “claiming” domestic violence or gang violence as a reason for fear of return no longer qualifies migrants for asylum in the United States, reversing an immigration appeals court ruling. His decision will have devastating and deadly consequences for migrant women—and feminists are fighting back.

“People seeking asylum are not a threat to our national security,” Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority, said in a statement today. “They are desperate people seeking refuge who deserve to be treated with dignity.”

Smeal protested the separation of children from their parents at the border today in Washington, D.C., risking arrest alongside activists from other feminist and human rights organizations as well as Congress members John Lewis (D-GA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Al Green (D-TX), Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Jimmy Gonzalez (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). “This is a human rights issue,” Smeal declared in her remarks to the crowd. “This is a feminist issue.”

The Feminist Majority is asking members to demand that their senators and representatives reject Sessions’ decision and support the Keep Families Together Act, which would end the practice of separating families at the border. “Victims of domestic violence should not be foreclosed from seeking asylum, and anyone fleeing violence and persecution should not be subject to the cruelty of having their children forcibly removed,” Gaylynn Burroughs, FM Political Director, wrote in an email to members about the action. “We must act now to stop these immoral and heartless policies.”

In a speech to immigration judges, Sessions said that “saying a few simple words—claiming a fear of return—is now transforming a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return into a prolonged legal process.” This is far from the truth.

In the Summer 2017 issue of Ms., immigration lawyers Roxana Bacon and Nina Rabin revealed the cruel border policies that Central American women fleeing domestic violence are subjected to—far from the easy step into America that Sessions pronounced, the journey for asylum they documented was long and arduous, and often unsuccessful. Many women were sent straight home from temporary holding cells, and were prevented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection officers from applying for their right to asylum. If an asylum seeker was lucky enough to be transported to a long-term detention facility, they waited years for an asylum trial in which they were not guaranteed the right to an attorney. Most claims were denied, and then had to be appealed.

Adding domestic violence to the list of asylum worthy crimes was a long and difficult campaign fought by many lawyers over numerous cases; the Board of Immigration Appeals only set precedent in the matter in 2014. Even today, there is still no law against separating children from their parents while they are seeking asylum—a point as salient and stark as ever in light of the Trump administration’s recent decision to make such a practice routine.

“It took more than 20 years and many cases involving primarily Mexican and Central American women fleeing horrifying levels of violence,” Bacon and Rabin observed, “before our government accepted that such women could fit into the framework of asylum law.” Women seeking asylum, however, still had to “show domestic violence so severe it amounts to persecution, an abuser motivated by her inability to escape the relationship and a government unable or unwilling to protect her from violence.”

Sessions this week declared that asylum “does not provide redress for all misfortune,” and called domestic violence a “private matter.” But such violence is a societal and a global matter—and in rejecting asylum for thousands of survivors, Sessions is condoning the horrific violence they’ve faced and condemning them to death.


Amy DePoy is a student at Yale University and a former editorial intern at Ms. She loves feminism, reading and writing. She also loves all fruits, but especially strawberries.