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How The DOJ Decision On Asylum Cases Will Affect Those Fleeing Domestic Abuse


Now for an opposing perspective, we turn to Dorchen Leidholdt. She is director of the Center for Battered Women's Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families. It's a nonprofit in New York. She called the attorney general's decision, quote, "the worst thing yet from this administration."

DORCHEN LEIDHOLDT: I think that the attorney general, Attorney General Sessions, does not understand that persecution that is based on gender generally does not have the same kind of public character of other kinds of persecution. It takes the form often of beatings and rapes in bedrooms, not lynching in public spaces. And unlike victims of many other kinds of persecution, victims of gender-based persecution usually do not have a public socially recognized identity, especially in societies where there is little public recognition of the harm of gender-based violence.

Unfortunately, Attorney General Sessions is willfully ignorant to these obvious facts. He egregiously minimizes the failure of the governments these victims are fleeing to protect them. And he treats this failure to protect as inadvertent when in fact these victims are deliberately and callously denied protection by their own governments.

CORNISH: One political argument is that if you open the doors too wide, you lose political support to help people in the first place.

LEIDHOLDT: Well, I don't think the doors have been opened too wide. Certainly victims of severe, longstanding gender-based violence have come to the United States and have been granted asylum. It's never been a floodgate situation. These are hard cases to win.

CORNISH: What are you advising your clients now? I don't know if you can describe a case pending that might be affected by this new policy.

LEIDHOLDT: Well, many of our cases could conceivably be affected by this new policy. We're certainly talking about victims of domestic violence, but it also affects so many other victims. We have victims of female genital mutilation, they're now at increased risk of being denied asylum; victims of honor-based violence who are often threatened by death by their own families because those families believe in very traditional, conservative societies that these women and girls have somehow impugned the family's honor. So this will affect scores and scores of our clients. However, our strategy - we will persist in representing them. We believe that ultimately there will be a recognition that these are exactly the kinds of cases and the kinds of individuals that our country's asylum laws are intended to protect.

CORNISH: What were your initial thoughts on Monday when you'd learned of the attorney general's decision?

LEIDHOLDT: Well, there were more emotions than thoughts, and the images of the clients we have successfully represented came to my mind. And I just tried to imagine circumstances under which they would have been denied protection. We've represented hundreds of women successfully in gender-based asylum claims and watched them enter our society, move from the margins to the center, get jobs, provide for themselves and their children, make important contributions to our society, often doing jobs that other Americans don't want to do. The impact on them, their children and their communities is devastating.

CORNISH: Dorchen Leidholdt - she's an attorney with Sanctuary for Families and a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LEIDHOLDT: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.