Gender-based Persecution: How Trump’s Asylum Policies are Affecting Women

So, what’s really happening with the Trump administration and immigration? Perhaps the most foreboding of all the unsettling policies are those surrounding asylum seekers. Several new policies by the Trump administration seek not only to alter the asylum process but to significantly decrease the possibility of success. With the probability of being granted asylum lower than ever before, there are several nefarious effects that do not make the headlines. Notably how the changes to asylum policy are disproportionately affecting women; the recent restrictions on asylum application are directly invalidating gender-based violence. But coming from the Trump administration, are we truly surprised? President Trump’s immigration policies are making the United States a hostile place to seek asylum and sanctuary, effectively eliminating a viable option for women fleeing violence. 

The current immigration policies are drastically veering away from the values of the country regarding asylum seekers. Critics of the immigration policy modifications say “the proposed changes are an attempt to rescind core principles of U.S. immigration law” [1]. One of America’s long-standing values is being a safe-haven for those seeking persecution. The current policies being enacted directly contradicts one of the core principles upon which this country was founded. President Trump’s policies denote a “zero-tolerance” approach that include prosecuting first-time border crossers and detaining families seeking asylum. Initially, this approach encompassed family separation as well, but has been phased out due to public outcry [2].

These zero-tolerance policies are meant to be a deterrence from applying for asylum; the context in which judges can grant asylum has narrowed considerably. One of the many casualties is the elimination of fleeing domestic violence as grounds for protection in the United States. In the U.S., fleeing persecution due to race, religion, nationalist, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group are grounds for asylum application [3]. In order to be considered a member of a particular social group, the asylum applicant must demonstrate membership in this group, prove that her membership is central to her persecution, and that the persecution is either inflicted by the government of her home country or that they are unwilling to protect her. Membership alone to this particular social group does not qualify women for refugee status. She must prove that belonging to this particular social group puts her at risk for harm, and that her membership is the reason that she is at risk for violence [4].  Because women are victims of violence based solely on gender, this would qualify them both as members of a particular social group and as asylum-seekers. “Zero-tolerance” policies are not consistent with concepts of persecution as outlined by the U.S.

Violences against women, specifically sexual and domestic violence, are considered a human rights violations, or forms of persecution. In the UNHCR handbook, persecution is defined as “From Article 33 of the 1951 Convention, it may be inferred that a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group is always persecution” [5]. Gender-related violence such as female genital mutilation, trafficking, honor killings, dowry-related violence, and sexual and domestic violence inflict severe and long-lasting physical and psychological effects. As such, they are classified under harmful and persecutory actions.  

Despite recognition from the international community that womanhood is a particular social group, the threat of domestic violence is no longer considered persecution or grounds for credible fear in the United States. Massive amounts of women are fleeing death by intimate partner violence in Central America, and the Trump administration is determined to keep them out of the U.S. In Guatemala, the femicide (or the homicide rate for women), rates are three times the global average, in El Salvador it is six times higher, and in Honduras, it is twelve times above the global average [6]. Eighteen Central American countries have passed legislation to reframe murdering women as femicide, exacting more severe penalties. And yet, even in countries that designed legal systems to protect women, their female citizenry continue to be victims of gender-based violence. For instance, in countries such as Guatemala, only about six percent of femicides actually result in a conviction [6]. Despite these strides made towards ending gender-based violence, many women are in need of asylum. 

Persecution frequently takes the form of gender-based violence, often manifesting itself as violations of human rights in sexual and domestic violence. Gender-based violence targets women, and as women flee this violence, they are increasingly denied asylum in the United States, “Because most of asylum claims made by Central Americans at the southwest border are based on gender … in their home countries, it is unlikely that these applicants will see … asylum cases going forward” [7]. The United States needs to rescue and strengthen its asylum system, signalling a return to one of the country’s foundational ideas. The asylum reformation in the United States by the Trump administration has made the U.S. an agent of persecution on the basis of sex. 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-administration-moves-to-restrict-asylum-access-aiming-to-curb-central-american-migration/2019/07/15/f3360576-a704-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html

[2] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/LSB10207.pdf

[3] https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum

[4] https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/5822266c4.pdf

[5] https://www.unhcr.org/4d944d089.pdf

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/18/world/americas/guatemala-violence-women-asylum.html

[7] file:///Users/annas/Downloads/MPI-AsylumSystemInCrisis-Final%20(1).pdf 

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Anna Salvania

ANNA SALVANIA is a junior from Eagle Mountain, Utah. She is a Middle Eastern Studies/Arabic major and a Global Women’s Studies minor. She helps manage the sexual assault outreach services at the Center for Women and Children in Crisis and is currently serving as the BYU Women’s Studies Honor Society president. She’s a fan of feminist theology, planning protests, Diet Coke, discussing the 2020 election, and Bollywood. Her special talent is sidetracking every conversation into a political one and her pet peeves include willful ignorance and racism. She intends to pursue a career in international human rights law, specializing in women’s issues and the refugee crisis.

Anna Salvania

ANNA SALVANIA is a junior from Eagle Mountain, Utah. She is a Middle Eastern Studies/Arabic major and a Global Women’s Studies minor. She helps manage the sexual assault outreach services at the Center for Women and Children in Crisis and is currently serving as the BYU Women’s Studies Honor Society president. She’s a fan of feminist theology, planning protests, Diet Coke, discussing the 2020 election, and Bollywood. Her special talent is sidetracking every conversation into a political one and her pet peeves include willful ignorance and racism. She intends to pursue a career in international human rights law, specializing in women’s issues and the refugee crisis.

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