EDITORIAL: Asylum claims should be heard in domestic, gang violence cases

Terrorism takes many forms. So does war; it can occur in one’s neighborhood or one’s own home. So it’s unfortunate that the Trump administration is denying asylum claims from people who are trying to escape gang or domestic violence.

Such determinations should be left up to the immigration judges who will decide them on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June issued a memo that reversed a U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals decision granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she came to this country to escape physical, sexual and emotional abuse by her husband.

“The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” Sessions wrote in his memo that also stated that fear of gang violence was not a valid asylum claim.

Immigration courts do not operate like courts of law, and can be overruled by the Justice Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate Session’s memo. Under the new rules, people “desperately seeking safety will be unlawfully deported to places where they fear they will be raped, kidnapped, beaten, and killed,” the ACLU claims.

Justice officials have criticized previous immigration policy as too lax, saying it was too easy for people to make false claims of abuse in order to gain legal status in this country.

Belying that allegation are Department of Homeland Security’s own numbers, which indicate that roughly one-tenth of abuse claims result in acquisition of legal status.

In the case that prompted Sessions’ memo, the immigration court obviously found that the woman’s claim of abuse, and her fear of retribution if she is forcibly returned, was real.

Many people who sought to escape gang threats have the same valid fears.

America’s immigration courts should operate much like courts of law, under similar rules. Judges assess each claim individually, review the evidence and testimony and then render their decisions case by case. At any level, this is the most practical and humane way to impart justice, rather than blanket decrees that fail to address special circumstances and needs.

Sessions, President Trump and others in the administration aren’t about to let go of their control over our immigration courts — their obvious phobia of people from other lands appears too great. However, Congress should consider offering legislation that would bring our immigration court system more in line with our criminal and civil court systems — and the Constitution, especially with regard to due process. This would help address the current denial of legal assistance to immigrants, who now must appear alone in court, even if they are mere infants.

Immigration judges should not be burdened with Draconian decrees that don’t allow them to render humane decisions when the cases require them. Those judges should be trusted to make the right decision; otherwise, they shouldn’t have their positions at all.

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