Full Text of Letter (PDF)
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives James P. McGovern (MA-02), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) and Norma Torres (CA-35) led 118 House Democrats – including 16 full committee Ranking Members – in a letter calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision declaring domestic violence, gang violence and gender-based violence as invalid grounds for seeking asylum in the United States. The letter comes just days after the Trump Administration issued proposed regulatory changes that would undermine the long-standing Flores court order by indefinitely holding asylum seekers in family detention.
The June 11th decision by Attorney General Sessions prevents victims of violence in some of the world’s most dangerous countries from seeking safety in the United States, and could condemn thousands of asylum-seekers to deportation, putting their lives in grave danger.
“We are deeply alarmed and outraged over a series of actions taken by you, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security that undermine or curtail the ability of migrants lawfully requesting asylum in the United States to present their claims,” the members wrote in their letter. “Taken together, these decisions, policies and practices have violated and shredded decades of precedent of U.S. law, careful jurisprudence within the immigration court system, and compliance with U.S. obligations under international law as a signatory to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of the of the 1951 Refugee Convention.”
“The Trump Administration’s decision to block victims of domestic violence from seeking asylum here in the United States is unbelievably coldhearted and cruel” said Congressman McGovern. “Families in countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are being told that if they don’t relinquish their sons to gang life or their daughters to sexual slavery, they will be killed. If I were put in that situation, I would move heaven and earth to get my kids to safety. For us to turn a blind eye and deny asylum to these victim of gang and gender-based violence is just plain wrong.”
“Refusing asylum to people fleeing gang, domestic and gender-related violence goes against what we stand for as a country and the Trump Administration has ruthlessly turned its back on victims of abuse and violence. We have a legal and moral obligation to provide refuge for these victims, not treat them as criminals. Denying asylum doesn’t separate us from the terror and violence in other countries; it aligns us with the perpetrators. For many of these individuals, seeking asylum is a matter of life and death, and the Trump Administration must immediately reverse course and allow these cases to move forward,” said Congressman Pocan.
“The Trump Administration’s attack on asylum seekers is cruel and un-American. These restrictions are shamefully designed to discourage people who face legitimate danger from seeking sanctuary and security in our country,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “This nation must remain a haven for those who seek to escape violence and persecution. Asylum seekers flee imminent danger to get our help, and for many, this is a matter of life and death. Turning our back and ignoring the suffering of women, children, and families is disgraceful.”
“I am disgusted by this administration’s cruelty toward women and children who come here seeking safety, and I am proud to join my colleagues in calling on Attorney General Sessions to reverse course,” said Congresswoman Torres. “Many of the families coming from Central America are fleeing persecution and death threats from violent street gangs. We have a moral obligation to allow these asylum seekers to tell their stories, and to allow immigration judges to decide each case on its merits.”
According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as the annual Small Arms Survey, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have some of the highest homicide rates not just in the Americas, but in the world, exceeding even most countries at war.
“The breadth of violence by dangerous non-state actors and domestic abusers reflects deeply-rooted social prejudice and persecution, as well as institutional cultures of impunity within law enforcement and the judiciary. To cavalierly dismiss them as mere lapses in effective policing only reinforces the bias that these lives have no value and may be abused and murdered without consequence,” the members wrote. “These violent non-state actors are kin to the violence perpetrated against civilians by ISIS or the Lord’s Resistance Army, and their victims should not be demeaned as criminals because they flee such daily terror, arrive at our borders and request asylum.”
The members also called on the Attorney General to:
• Direct law enforcement and border authorities to stop impeding access by asylum seekers to U.S. ports of entry;
• Stop prosecuting the misdemeanor of improper entry by asylum seekers who enter the U.S. between ports of entry and who voluntarily surrender to U.S. authorities; and
• Direct USCIS to recall its July 12th guidance that incorrectly instructs asylum officers to deny domestic violence and gang-related violence claims as a matter of course, rather on a case-by-case review.
Joining Representatives McGovern, Pocan, DeLauro and Torres on the letter were Representatives:
Jerrold Nadler, Nita M. Lowey, Adam Smith , Eliot L. Engel, Adam B. Schiff, John A. Yarmuth, Richard E. Neal, Frank Pallone, Jr., Nydia M. Velázquez, Raúl M. Grijalva, Peter A. DeFazio, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Mark Takano, Joseph Crowley, John Lewis, Luis V. Gutiérrez, José E. Serrano, Lucille Roybal-Allard , Karen Bass, David E. Price, Jan Schakowsky, Judy Chu, Sander M. Levin, Linda T. Sánchez, Pramila Jayapal, Keith Ellison, Filemon Vela, Vicente Gonzalez, Gene Green, Al Green, Marc A. Veasey, Lloyd Doggett, Beto O’Rourke, Ruben Gallego, Ben Ray Luján, Dina Titus, Ruben J. Kihuen, Barbara Lee, Mark DeSaulnier, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Jackie Speier, Salud O. Carbajal, Anna G. Eshoo, Doris O. Matsui, Ted W. Lieu, Jared Huffman, Alan S. Lowenthal, Jimmy Panetta, J. Luis Correa, Grace F. Napolitano, Mike Thompson, Juan Vargas, Julia Brownley, Ro Khanna, Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, David N. Cicilline, Yvette D. Clarke, André Carson, Adriano Espaillat, Kathleen M. Rice, Alcee L. Hastings, Steve Cohen, Peter Welch, Donald S. Beyer, Jr., Bill Foster, Michael E. Capuano, Chellie Pingree, Mike Quigley, Gwen Moore, Hakeem S. Jeffries, Betty McCollum, Carolyn B. Maloney, Gregory W. Meeks, Marcy Kaptur, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Val B. Demings, Elijah E. Cummings, Albio Sires, Colleen Hanabusa, Bobby L. Rush, Jamie Raskin, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Debbie Dingell, Sean Patrick Maloney, Frederica S. Wilson, Wm. Lacy Clay, Earl Blumenauer, Danny K. Davis, Bradley S. Schneider, Joseph P. Kennedy, III, Seth Moulton, Daniel T. Kildee, William R. Keating, Katherine M. Clark, Niki Tsongas, Rick Larsen, Ted Deutch, Tulsi Gabbard, Suzanne Bonamici, Darren Soto, A. Donald McEachin, Robin L. Kelly, Brenda L. Lawrence, Grace Meng, Brendan F. Boyle, Emanuel Cleaver, II, Anthony G. Brown, Thomas R. Suozzi, Denny Heck.