Thousands of Women Could Die Because of Sessions' Latest Immigration Decision

Commentary
By Jenna Barnett 6-12-2018
FILE PHOTO: Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a legal decision that has fatal implications for our neighbors fleeing abuse around the world. Sessions has decided to deny asylum to everyone coming to the U.S. to escape domestic violence, overturning a precedent set by the Obama administration in 2009. As justification for the countless people who will inevitably die as a result of this this decision, Sessions offered up the following explanation (emphasis mine):

“Powerful incentives were created for aliens to come here illegally and claim a fear of return. In effect, word spread that by asserting this fear, they could remain in the United States one way or the other. Far too often, that rumor proved to be true.”

I have bones and bones and bones to pick with this. It is not our policies that “incentivized” upwards of 10,000 people per year to make the treacherous journey from their homes in Central America to the U.S. — rather, it was the relentless abuse from gangs or from their partners and the failure of their own governments to protect them. Their incentive was the credible fear inside their own homes. It is this simple: if the house you live in catches fire, you run away from it — far away, especially if the country you live in won’t or can’t put out the flames.

This ruling — which also stops people from seeking asylum to escape gang violence — is especially painful to those in Central/Latin America. According to a 2017 UNDP report, while Latin America has made great strides over the past few years to advance laws against gender-based violence, the rate of femicide is climbing, with two in every five fatalities resulting from domestic violence. Latin America has the highest rates in the world of violence against women outside an intimate partner, and the second highest rates of domestic violence.

On a recent trip to El Salvador, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, issued a poignant end-of-mission statement:

“El Salvador has the awful distinction of having the highest rate of gender-based killings of women and girls in Central America – a region where femicide is already regrettably high, as is impunity for these crimes.”

El Salvador and neighboring countries must continue to create policies and resources to curb the epidemic of domestic violence, but in the meantime, victims of abuse must have a place to run to — like the U.S. — for safety. In January, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services reported a backlog of 311,000 asylum claims. According to the Los Angeles Times, a substantial percentage of this backlog is composed of the categories targeted by the attorney general.

Sessions concluded his comments on his decision by explaining that he is simply giving the American people what they want:

“The American people have spoken. They have spoken in our laws and they have spoken in our elections. They want a safe, secure border and a lawful system of immigration that actually works. Let’s deliver it for them.”

He’s got it wrong. I believe that many Americans want something different and want something more: I for one want to live in a country that welcomes the neighbor — especially neighbors who are ravaged by wars in their countries and wars within their own homes.

Call Jeff Sessions and tell him what you want. Fill out this action alert and ask him to withdraw his legal decision.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve quoted Scriptures at this administration to remind them of the Christian responsibility to welcome the stranger. The xenophobic policies coming out of the White House have rendered me redundant, reducing me to a broken record singing “remember you were strangers” in perpetuity. Has Sessions — an active Methodist — ever echoed the words in Luke 10 to ask God, “Who is my neighbor?” Has he ever placed himself within the story of the Good Samaritan and wondered who he is in this parable as he issues negligent and isolationist policies? It would be inaccurate to cast Sessions as the Priest or the Levite who both see a beaten and hurting person on the road and simply shift their gaze. After all, Sessions isn’t just averting his eyes from our abused neighbors to the South — he is enacting policies that force our entire country to avert our collective eyes. Contact Sessions to tell him that you won’t look away. Tell him to revoke his decision and remember who his neighbor is.

Jenna Barnett is the Women and Girls Campaign Coordinator for Sojourners.

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