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Immigration Law Professor Weighs In On U.S. Asylum Eligibility Decision


We're going to dive into a decision that Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued earlier this week, one that dramatically changes who's eligible for asylum in this country. Sessions had intervened in the case of a Salvadoran woman who says she suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her husband. On Monday, Sessions overturned a court ruling that had allowed her to stay.


JEFF SESSIONS: Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world.

CORNISH: And the attorney general wrote this in his decision - (reading) the mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes cannot itself establish an asylum claim.

In a few minutes, we're going to hear from an attorney who has successfully represented many victims of domestic violence. First, though, to Jan Ting. He's a professor of law at Temple University's Beasley School of Law. He largely agrees with Sessions' interpretation of asylum law.

JAN TING: It's been a dispute all along, right? All the attorney generals have said, gee, this as a difficult issue. You know, you're trying to find the right balance of trying to protect the people that the statute is meant to protect and yet not throw the definition of refugee so broadly that we're kind of overwhelmed. I mean, I think there's a political consideration here, too, that for those of us who believe in the asylum statute and the protection that it provides, you can't throw the doors so wide open that you lose political support for that concept, as is I think happening now.

CORNISH: But one argument people are saying is that there's such thing as gender-based violence, for instance, and therefore, if you have a government that cannot or will not control or protect people who are struggling - right? - and that there's systematic dysfunction in that justice system, those people should be able to apply for asylum.

TING: Well, you can make that argument for all kinds of groups of people - right? - I mean, people who are threatened by criminal violence, and the government can't do anything about criminal violence. People who are threatened by civil war - right? - their homes are being bombed, and the government can't stop the bombing from going on. They can't stop the civil war. So there are all kinds of life-threatening situations and, frankly, sympathetic situations for the people that are involved. But we have to ask ourselves the question is this who the statute was intended to protect?

And I think it's clear both internationally and in the United States that the statute was drafted to protect a discrete and limited number of people. They carefully defined who was to be protected. You have to have been a victim of persecution or threatened with persecution. What is persecution? You know, it's not discrimination. It's not that a volcano exploded and there's ash falling on your home. It's not that there are no jobs in your area. Even if the government is doing nothing about creating jobs for you, that's not persecution. So I think people were conscious of the fact that this was to provide protection for a limited and discrete number of people.

CORNISH: People are going to be hearing some pretty awful stories of immigrants fleeing gang violence, of women fleeing all kinds of abuse; are you effectively saying put that out of your mind because America's doors, we just can't accommodate them?

TING: Well, I guess I am saying that there's a lot of terrible stuff going on in the world, and the solution to all the terrible stuff that's going on in the world cannot be let's bring every single person who's a victim of anything to the United States and let them live here with their families forever. That can't be the right answer. Well, what is the right answer? The right answer is whatever Congress says the right answer is. Congress has spoken on this issue. We've set up this immigration procedure. Congress has given us statutes that tell us who can immigrate permanently to the United States and who is removable from the United States. And that's what the system is designed to enforce. Congress can change the laws any time.

CORNISH: Jan Ting - he is a professor of law at Temple University. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TING: It's always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.