Immigration Advocates are Challenging the Trump Administration’s Anti-Woman Asylum Policies

Applicants for asylum in the U.S. undergo a screening process in which they must prove that they have “credible fear of persecution” in their home country in order to further pursue their claim in court. Gender-based persecution was previously considered cause for “credible fear”—but in accordance with Trump administration policy, survivors are now being turned away at the border.

The implementation of a so-called “expedited removal” policy by Attorney General Jeff Sessions allows immigration officers to deny claims of asylum from women fleeing domestic violence. The new policy is an effective death sentence for thousands of women and children—and advocates are fighting back.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) have filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration. The plaintiffs in Grace v. Sessions are women who attempted to seek asylum as a result of severe sexual violence and domestic abuse in their home countries.

One of those women fled to the U.S. in order to escape her abusive partner—who had sexually assaulted her and her daughter for years, used her own illiteracy to his advantage in order to take the title to her home and beaten her to the point that she miscarried during pregnancy. She was eventually evicted and forced to move in with a neighbor, and after getting no help from the police, sought asylum in the U.S. Upon arrival, she was told that her experience was a “personal” incident, and not a legitimate reason to be granted asylum. She is currently awaiting deportation in a detention center.

“The courts and the international community have recognized that gender can be the basis of asylum, specifically gender-based persecution,” Eunice Lee, the Co-Legal Director at the CGRS told Ms. “The idea that the government can just shut down asylum at the border and prevent people from even getting through to having their claims heard in court is really just misguided and unlawful.”  In addition to the lawsuit, CRGS has started a movement called Immigrant Women Too— a campaign amplifying the stories and fighting for the human rights of survivors of sexual and domestic violence arriving at the southern U.S. border.

As of August 9, a federal court temporarily blocked the deportation of immigrants who are fleeing domestic violence and abuse in their home countries. In a hearing, it came to light that the U.S. government had ordered that a mother and daughter be placed on a deportation flight to their home country in Central America, even though the government assured that no deportation flights would be made before midnight on the ninth. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered that the plane be turned around, declaring that it was “unacceptable” for a person to be deported while her attorneys were in court on her behalf, and issued a stay from the bench—temporarily blocking the deportation of asylum seekers that are fleeing domestic abuse, sexual violence or gang violence.

“In its rush to deport as many immigrants as possible, the Trump administration is putting these women and children in grave danger of being raped, beaten or killed,” Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “We are thrilled the stay of removal was issued but sickened that the government deported two of our clients—a mom and her little girl—in the early morning hours. We will not rest until our clients are returned to safety.”


Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women's liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor to Ms.