Immigrant rights advocates hailed the Wednesday reversal by U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland of a Trump-era rule denying asylum in the United States to victims of domestic or gang violence as a "critically important" step toward restoring the right of refuge to migrants fleeing countries where their lives are often in danger.
In a pair of decisions, Garland vacated a 2018 guidance from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that declared migrants would no longer automatically qualify for asylum if they presented concerns of domestic abuse or gang violence in their home countries.
Later that year, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. struck down much of the contentious Justice Department guidance, calling it "arbitrary, capricious," and unlawful.
According to the New York Times, Wednesday's decision involves the cases of two asylum-seeking Salvadoran women known as A-B- and L-E-A-. In 2016 and 2017, the Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that the women qualified for asylum since the government of El Salvador did not adequately protect people suffering domestic abuse.
A 2020 Human Rights Watch investigation found that at least 138 people deported from the United States to El Salvador since 2013 were killed, and that at least 70 others were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, or tortured. Many of the victims were murdered or harmed by the gangs they originally fled.
"These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our nation's asylum laws, which reflect America's commitment to providing refuge to some of the world's most vulnerable people," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote on Wednesday in a memo to the Justice Department's Civil Division.
Migrant advocates hailed news of the DOJ policy reversal.
"This was the right move. We are thrilled for our client and for the many deserving individuals fleeing persecution who will have a fair chance to seek refuge in the United States," Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) and co-counsel in Matter of A-B-, said in a statement.
"Now it's time to build on this progress," she added. "We're ready to work with the administration to create an asylum system that provides every person a fair opportunity to apply for protection, in line with our human rights obligations."
Bradley Jenkins, federal litigation attorney at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and one of the lawyers representing L-E-A-, said that "families facing persecution qualify for asylum under any reasonable interpretation of the law, and it is encouraging to see Attorney General Garland take this step toward restoring the asylum system."
"We hope that the rule-making process will result in further progress toward a fair and humane asylum policy," he added.