Another Feminist Ruling


I’m not sure the U.S. Courts have gotten as much attention in my lifetime as they’ve been given in the last two years. The courts have had a particularly important role around immigration issues. From the Muslim Ban to Sanctuary Cities, every level of our judicial system has had an opportunity to weigh in on immigration.

When I wrote about US asylum following my time at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley Texas, domestic violence and gang violence were not considered grounds for asylum in the United States. In June 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision that victims of a “private crime,” such as gang violence or domestic violence, would not be eligible for asylum for crimes perpetrated by “non-governmental actors.” He argued that asylum was not intended to be protection from any type of misfortune or duress. The argument against this ruling is that when “governmental actors” refuse to protect their citizens from particular crimes such as domestic violence or gang violence, it does become an issue for asylum.


When I was prepping women for their credible fear interviews in Dilley, nearly every woman had a story of domestic violence or gang violence. One of the questions we always asked was “did you go to the police.” Some women actually laughed. How could we be so stupid? Of course they didn’t go to the police. We explained that they would need to walk the asylum officer through their reasons for not going to the police…

Did you go to the police? No. Why not? They wouldn’t help. How do you know? Because they work for the gangs. What makes you say that? They go to their parties and when they see them commit crimes on the street they look away. Do you know anyone who has ever gone to the police? Yes, my neighbor. What happened to her? She was dead the next day.

There was a variation for domestic violence too but it ended with the police calling her husband to come collect his wife. It is almost too easy to show that the government and local police cannot or will not protect people, mostly women and children, from domestic violence and gang violence. They are complicit at best and active participants at worst. This makes the perpetrators of these crimes “governmental actors.”  


U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan agreed. On December 19, 2018 he struck down most of the Trump-Sessions ruling on domestic violence and gang violence as not being grounds for asylum. He said “And because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal, the court finds that those policies are unlawful.” The petty part of me giggled gleefully at his sass. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the credible fear process or if the government will get their stay while they appeal the ruling. But this is an incredibly important ruling not just for immigrants but for women.

I’ve written before that the United States government and local law enforcement doesn’t view crimes against women as real crimes, based on the abysmal rates of conviction for domestic and sexual crimes which disproportionately affect women and girls. In Central America, like everywhere else, women and girls are the primary victims of domestic violence. While men can just as easily be victims of gang violence, the violence towards men is rarely sexual while the types of crimes gangs commit against women often is. While U.S. asylum law hasn’t advanced so far as to include being a woman or girl as “membership in a particular social group” which leads to persecution, this ruling provides a step in that direction. Women and girls are physically, psychologically, economically, and of course sexually abused because of their lack of power in society. They are a particular social group with less power and protection than men. Men take advantage of this power differential to abuse women and girls with little to no interference from the patriarchal government.


If we were to look at any other social group suffering the same circumstance—a group of people with darker skin who hold less political and physical power as a result and are therefore beaten, raped, and killed by the lighter skinned citizens while law enforcement sits idly by—we would immediately recognize it as a case for asylum. That it required a judge’s ruling to protect people from these types of crimes says a lot about U.S. values. But while it deeply disturbs me that this ruling was necessary, I am given hope by the fact that 2018 brought us yet another feminist ruling.

Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist

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