ACLU Battles 'Arbitrary' Deportations Of Asylum Seekers

Aug 11, 2018
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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

The Trump administration is facing more pushback against its immigration policies - this time, from a federal judge in Washington D.C. On Thursday, Judge Emmet Sullivan halted a deportation in progress. He ordered the return of an asylum seeker who had been put on a plane to El Salvador, and he threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt because the government had spirited the woman away while her case was still pending. I spoke yesterday with the asylum seeker's attorney, Jennifer Chang Newell of the ACLU. Her client is identified only as Carmen (ph) to protect her identity.

JENNIFER CHANG NEWELL: Carmen and her little girl fled El Salvador to escape two decades of horrific sexual abuse by her husband as well as death threats from a violent gang. Her husband raped her, stalked her, threatened her with death and she didn't report her husband's threats to the police because she had seen that the police just didn't protect women from this kind of abuse. And she also knew of women who had tried to report this kind of abuse to the police only to be killed by their husbands in retaliation.

SINGH: Where are the mother and child now?

CHANG NEWELL: So now they are back in the United States at the Dilley detention facility. I believe it's called the South Texas residential facility in Dilley, Texas.

SINGH: So explain Judge Sullivan's order for us. As I understand it, he has not decided to grant asylum to Carmen and the other plaintiffs you're representing. Is that right?

CHANG NEWELL: That's correct. We were in court asking the judge for an emergency stay of deportation. In other words, an order that would block the government from deporting Carmen and her little girl as well as several of the other plaintiffs who remain in the United States. And they are suing the administration because they believe that - and we believe - that these new policies that Jeff Sessions and Secretary Nielsen have issued to heighten the screening policies that asylum seekers like Carmen and her daughter are subject to, are unlawful. And so, we were in court arguing about the stay when we found out that Carmen and her daughter had been rousted from their beds in the Dilley facility and put on a plane.

SINGH: The Obama administration added domestic abuse and gang violence is grounds to seek asylum in 2009, but Attorney General Sessions overturned this in June. And he said most of domestic abuse and gang violence cases would no longer be considered reasons to grant asylum. So I'm curious, how can you make a case for Carmen when this decision was handed down by Sessions in June?

CHANG NEWELL: The new policies have a general rule against granting asylum cases based on domestic violence or gang violence. But the attorney general doesn't just get to make a rule like that, it has to be consistent with the immigration laws that Congress has enacted. And what we argue in our lawsuit is that that rule violates the immigration laws. The immigration laws actually require that every asylum seeker get a fact-specific, individualized assessment of their case.

SINGH: Do you believe it has been easier to verify traditional claims for seeking asylum, such as political or religious persecution, that it's been easier to verify those claims rather than claims of domestic abuse?

CHANG NEWELL: I mean, I can't think of any reason why the type of violence or the type of persecution that someone suffers would affect, you know, whether you can verify it as being true. And in addition to that, you know, one of the things that Sessions' new policies do not acknowledge is that it's not even true that you can't win asylum based on gang violence or domestic violence. In fact, you know, in a variety of circumstances, the federal courts have recognized asylum claims based on these, you know, domestic violence, gender-related violence, and gang violence.

SINGH: When do you expect a decision on Carmen's case, and who will make that decision?

CHANG NEWELL: Judge Sullivan will make that decision after the parties brief the issues in front of him. The judge made clear in court that he wanted to resolve the issues quickly. And we wholeheartedly agree because while these policies are in effect, thousands of asylum seekers like Carmen and her daughter are at risk.

SINGH: That's Jennifer Chang Newell. She's an immigration attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. Ms. Chang Newell, thanks again for joining us. Thanks so much.

CHANG NEWELL: Sure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.