Civil Rights Commissioner Slams House Attack on Asylum Integrity

Kirsanow calls on Ryan to reverse committee proposal

Jeff Sessions
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• August 11, 2018 5:00 am


Peter Kirsanow, a commissioner of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, called on House leadership to reject an amendment that would render Attorney General Jeff Sessions's reforms to asylum impotent.

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, Kirsanow forcefully condemned the proposal, writing it would "undermine immigration enforcement."

"American workers finally have a beneficial labor market after suffering years of high unemployment and stagnant wages. And now Republicans in Congress want to blow it by gutting immigration enforcement," Kirsanow writes.

The source of Kirsanow's discontent traces back to June, when Sessions issued an opinion in the immigration court case Matter of A-B- (as attorney general, Sessions has final review over all immigration court matters). In A-B-, Sessions overruled a 2014 decision of the immigration court system's highest appeals board which found, in Matter of A-R-C-G-, that "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship" were a class of people entitled to asylum protections under the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

This seemingly boring categorization was in fact deeply controversial. The INA specifies that individuals are entitled to asylum if they face particular threats or oppression by dint of their "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

This second-to-last option is what the Board of Immigration Appeals argued the defendant in A-R-C-G- fell into. Sessions disagreed, contending that domestic violence is a matter for the government of Guatemala, not for the far-off American state.

"Domestic violence and gang violence are fundamentally law enforcement issues, not government persecution issues," Kirsanow writes in his letter to Ryan, agreeing with Sessions. "If Congress had intended the Refugee Act of 1980 to apply to victims of domestic violence and gang violence, it is remarkable that this was not discovered until 36 years after passage of the act."

This "remarkable discovery" had the unintended effect of permitting asylum categories so broad as to guarantee almost anyone protection by the U.S. government.

"By establishing … such broad bases for granting asylum, the BIA ensures that virtually anyone from Central America—perhaps virtually anyone in the entire world—can claim asylum," Kirsanow argues.

While Sessions and Kirsanow are in agreement, Ryan's colleagues in the House apparently are not. As the WashingtonFree Beacon reported two weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Homeland Security added an amendment to their version of the DHS appropriations bill forbidding any funds from being appropriated to actually enforce Sessions's opinion in Matter of A-B-.

The committee version of the bill has not yet made it to the full floor of the House, and Commissioner Kirsanow called on Ryan to ensure that it does not include the asylum amendment when it does. Otherwise, he argues, the doors will be opened for an influx of economic migrants masquerading as legitimate asylum seekers under extremely broad categories of eligibility.

"Reversing the attorney general's decision to enforce the law as it has been understood for almost 40 years will encourage further massive waves of illegal immigration into the country. Attorney General Session's decision to return to the understanding of the asylum laws that was [sic] in place from 1980-2016 is an effort to stop people at the border before they enter the country," he writes.