Jun 11, 2018, 4:44 PM ET

No more asylum claims based on fear of gang violence: Sessions

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making an aggressive new move to crack down on illegal immigration, announcing Monday that the Trump administration will no longer accept asylum claims based on fear of domestic violence, gang violence or other “personal crime.”

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“Our nation’s immigration laws provide for asylum to be granted to individuals who have been persecuted, or who have a well-founded fear of persecution, on account of their membership in a ‘particular social group,’ but most victims of personal crimes do not fit this definition — no matter how vile and reprehensible the crime perpetrated against them," a Justice Department statement said.

Pushback from immigration groups was swift.

“The Attorney General’s decision — if permitted to stand—will no doubt result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs. Turning our backs on victims of violence and deporting them to grave danger should not be the legacy sought by any administration," Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, said in a release.

Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, told ABC News that Sessions’ decision will be appealed, indicating the matter is “far from over.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, blasted the Sessions move.

“Once again, an administration that claims to be tough on crime is actually just tough on crime victims. Today’s shameful decision by the Attorney General slams the door in the face of women fleeing brutal violence, LGBT refugees fleeing persecution, and thousands of others seeking safety in the United States," he said in a statement.

"Today’s decision will send untold numbers of refugees to their deaths. Attorney General Sessions: their blood is on your hands,” Blumenthal said.

Earlier in the day at an event outside Washington, Sessions took aim at the asylum-seeking process in the United States.

"The asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, and public safety — and to the detriment of people with just claims," he said. "Saying a few simple words—claiming a fear of return — is now transforming a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing," Sessions continued.

When a person comes to the United States seeking asylum, they must declare to the customs officer that they have a "credible fear of persecution" in his or her home country.

Both the 1951 United States Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and U.S. law say that the United States must recognize refugees with that fear of persecution and who aren't able to seek help from their home country.

But on Monday, Sessions portrayed asylum seekers as making claims as a means to an end.

"Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems — even all serious problems — that people face every day all over the world," he said.

Sessions said that majority of asylum claims "are not valid."

He lamented that the numbers have ballooned for people who claim asylum and are being placed in immigration courts.

The U.S. investigates and determines if people who claim asylum has "credible fear" and then if it is determined they do, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, they are brought in front of an immigration judge for a hearing on whether they'll be granted asylum.

The number of credible fear screenings has risen more than a thousand percent between 2008-2016.

USCIS says screenings have gone from 5,100 in 2008 to close to 92,000 screenings in 2016.

The Department of Justice has sent more than 15 immigration judges and over 30 prosecutors to the southern border to process asylum and other immigration cases.

"We have a firm goal, and that is to end the lawlessness that now exists in our immigration system," Sessions said.

Sessions also touched on the "zero tolerance" policy DOJ has put in place.

"I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple," Sessions said in front of Immigration Judges at the Executive Office for Immigration Review Annual Training Conference.

This is not the first time the Attorney General has spoken about "zero tolerance" on the border. The Department has touted the policy since early April, and Sessions spoke about it in early May.

He also defended the policy on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt's show.

The zero tolerance policy the Department of Justice has enacted has also led to the separation of children and parents.

"We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted. And you can’t be giving immunity to people who bring children with them recklessly and improperly and illegally," Sessions told interviewer Hugh Hewitt on June 5th.

The goal, the attorney general said, is to have no illegal border crossings.

ABC News' Geneva Sands and Lauren Pearle contributed to this report.

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  • Lifeishortgetaladder.

    so where will all the people in Chicago go???

  • lou g

    Sessions, the former racist senator who was anti immigration is supposedly just biased and prejudiced now. One wouldn't know it by his actions.

  • Inah Desario

    With the spike of 18% of US immigration asylum cases from 2008 to 2016, it is indeed a very high number. The US cannot possibly accommodate every South American community which is threatened by gangs to join them or be killed. We've experienced that same threat in our city back in the 1980's and they were communist rebels who killed abusive policemen and other villagers to terrorize them so they would join their cause or be killed, as well. With the help of a newly installed police colonel who revitalized a moribund vigilante group known as Alsa Masa (Masses Arise) and with town volunteers, tired of being fearful of these abusers, all rose up to secure and fight for their communities against these violent organization. And they succeeded - the enemy fled. If these South Americans will not come together courageously, as a group and fight against these violent gang organizations to regain their communities, they will always be helpless victims with no freedom. Or yet, transfer to another safer place in your country. Is the easiest way out to apply for asylum in the US where is there is more violence in the streets and schools? Refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and other African nations, I believe, need more help than you.

  • Keith

    I think it's far past time that we leave the "old white guy" behind, and turn over the country to those with a fresh perspective. Women are a largely untapped resource in politics, as are young people.

    Time to leave the past behind and start looking to the future. That's never been more clear than it is with the election of Trump.

    The "old white guy" had a good run, but now it's time for them to step aside.

    By the way, I'm a "old white guy."

  • McDuff

    We have plenty of gang violence in America too, much of it from illegal immigrants or the U.S. born children of illegal immigrants so the argument that people need to come illegally to the U.S. to escape gang violence in their home countries is weak. Especially when you have sanctuary cities and states that refuse to deport illegal immigrants who engage in violent gang crimes. Where can law abiding, legal U.S. residents go to claim asylum from the gang violence brought to American cities by illegal immigrants and their children?

  • foereel

    Domestic violence is a ridiculous reason to claim asylum.

  • anastasiabeaverhousen

    "I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple," Sessions said..."

    What about those who cross our other borders illegally? Are we separating Canadians and Europeans who come here without the proper permissions from their children and throwing them in jail, too? Seems a bit targeted towards a particular ethnic demographic, which is against U.S. immigration law.

  • Mindful

    Self proclaimed Christian nation. No longer beacon on the hill.

  • Brian Keele

    Pathway to citizenship for all comers.

  • Dan Farrar

    Asylum seekers who travel through multiple countries just to seek asylum in the US should be denied asylum.

  • Kousa

    In looking much deeper into this administrations immigration clamp down. It is clear that all of these efforts are being done to prevent further browning of America. In the near future America will have a demographic shift that will challenge the white power elites. I am all for a fair and legal immigration process, however, we must never turn a blind eye to those who are truly being persecuted and in need of asylum. America has always been a nation of compassion. If better screening is needed to weed out those who are making false claims for asylum, then we should do this. Let's not dismantle the whole asylum program. Take heed American, God is watching how you treat refugees who are poor, hungry and persecuted. What goes around, comes around.

  • Andrew

    Sessions has grown a black heart. His hatred for all peoples trying to enter the US is on his cold soul if he gets it wrong. I despise the man because he's a racist bigot - a hard-line jerk republican who has lost his compassion. He is what he is. I think Jeff Sessions is the most cruel man I've ever seen.

  • inonepeice

    Dispassionate

  • moving33

    The U.S allows 1 million immigrants in this country each year. No other country does that. Then allows work visas for many others. Yet, that number is only half. Illegal immigration costs the taxpayer billions each year on court appointed attorneys, court costs, drug traffic, welfare and other crime related costs. The border wall is a bargain.

  • whitepine

    Spoken like a Christian man?

  • A_Skri

    the traffickers and cartels should be punished for uprooting the central americans and herding them to the u.s.. where they will fall prey to impoverished labor, drug industry, gangs, etc.. within a few years their cultures are drained from them and they become little more than indentured servants in the u.s.. it would be worth wild to give support to these people in their home countries to help themselves.

  • Nearl45 61

    What a bitter old man.

  • Hal Walter

    If you do not like the immigration laws then talk to your congressmen. The executive branch enforces laws as written by the legislative branch and funded by the legislative branch. You are blaming the wrong people! Learn civics. Stop letting the media do your thinking for you.

  • overboard

    Great news!

  • Powderedtoastman

    Once this thug administration is gone, we can correct these kinds of things,

  • Richard

    There IS a God......Larry Kudlow, the Trump Economic advisor; who said there is a special place in Hell for the Canadian PM, and any foreign leader who opposes Trump..........He had a heart attack!

  • Hawkman100

    No more asylum claims based on gang violence?

    Of course not, because we all know that people from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and any number of other places are just making it all up. There is no gang violence in any of those places.

    And if you believe that, I got a bridge for sale.

  • MJ

    Only ACLU, their patrons, immigration lawyers who milk innocent people. illegal immigrants hate this ruling or thing from Dept of Justice. Legal immigrants welcome this. Enough BS about this asylum nonsense. Go to Canada if you seek Asylum. All the LTTE, African and PLO terrorists are there, not here in USA

  • Alex Vine

    Sessions is the soul of bigotry and racism. And his reasoning on this latest insult to human decency is so full of B.S. and outright lies as to be worthy of the Liar in Chief, his boss.

  • Richard

    We are an Immigrant Nation. Everybody here, except for Native Americans, are from somewhere else, either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation Immigrants. When I worked at Hewlett-Packard, until tens of thousands of US jobs were outsourced; I worked with dozens of Refugees from Vietnam......hard working folks....but as refugees, they got preferential hiring....the employer got a bonus, and they pay no taxes for the first 7 yrs here, along with many more govt perks / freebies. My NW city of over 200,000, also at last census, has a population of over 10% Russian refugees.