Key GOP Rep. Backs Out On Plan to Undo Sessions Asylum Reform

Rep. Kevin Yoder
Rep. Kevin Yoder / Getty Images

After pressure from the White House and his base, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R., Kansas) no longer backs a House subcommittee plan to undo reforms to the asylum process implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Yoder, who chairs the subcommittee, believes that the proposal "may be too controversial to make it through the process" and will be dropped from the final Homeland Security appropriations bill, McClatchy reported.

Yoder had previously voted in favor of an amendment to the bill offered by subcommittee colleague Rep. David Price (D., N.C.). That amendment—which Yoder has now backed down on—would have undone Sessions's ruling in Matter of A-B-, a decision he made in his capacity as final review authority over the whole immigration court system.

Understanding Matter of A-B- requires going back to 2014, when the Board of Immigration Appeals (the highest appeals court in the immigration court system) ruled in another case, Matter of A-R-C-G-. In that case, the BIA found that "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship" qualify as a "particular social group" under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, and consequently are eligible for asylum by dint of their situation.

What this means in practical reality is that would-be asylees can claim political protections simply by virtue of having been victims of domestic crimes in their home countries. This even if the home government was nominally competent to address the domestic crime.

The consequence of this was a massive expansion of asylum eligibility, according to Sessions, who reversed Matter of A-R-C-G- in his Matter of A-B-. But then Yoder, Price, and their colleagues in turn passed their amendment, which would defund enforcement of Matter of A-B-, effectively undoing Sessions's reform.

Yoder's reversal is particularly surprising because of how vehemently he initially supported the proposal. He ignored a personal plea from Sessions, speaking in favor of the proposal and allowing it to pass on a voice vote, McClatchy reported.

Asked why he backed down, Yoder cited concerns about false asylum claims.

"What we don't want to do is open up an opportunity for false claims and so what's tricky to do is figure out how legitimate claims, particularly on domestic violence, can be made without allowing opportunities for false claims to be created," he told McClatchy.

But there may be another explanation. The congressman is facing a tough reelection fight in his suburban Kansas-City district, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won in the 2016 election. It is possible that the conservative backlash against his initial decision, Yoder worried that his decision could cost him his base, and therefore his seat.