In an interim decision released Monday addressing whether those two classes of asylum claimants could successfully apply for asylum, Sessions wrote that they fail to meet two criteria: "(1) membership in a group, which is composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, is defined with particularity, and is socially distinct within the society in question; and (2) that membership in the group is a central reason for her persecution."
Authorities found that, in the case of domestic abuse survivors specifically, "the mere existence of shared circumstances would not turn those possessing such characteristics into a particular social group," the decision reads.
Immigrant rights advocates were livid, particularly in light of standing allegations of sexual misconduct against President Donald Trump.
"Sessions has taken a morally reprehensible and legally dark turn with this decision," says Jessica Farb, directing attorney of the Immigration Center for Women and Children advocacy group, one that deals in particular with violence faced by immigrant women and others. "Despite the obligations of the United States under international refugee law and in the face of a #MeToo movement, supporting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, this administration has shown its distaste for and misunderstanding of survivors of these crimes, especially immigrant survivors."
Others echoed her outrage."We are sickened by the administration's decision to turn their back on asylum seekers who have suffered domestic violence or gang violence," says Reshma Shamasunder, vice president of program strategy for the Los Angeles bureau of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an advocacy group. "This abandonment of immigrant women and families runs counter to American values and cements a horrible fate for our most vulnerable populations."
For Farb, Sessions is a reflection of an administration led by a man with a controversial track record on women's rights. "The change in the interpretation of this legal precedent shows Sessions bowing to the will of the commander in chief," she says.
Other immigrant rights advocates reflected Farb's view of the White House's misogyny. "If [Sessions] were a woman, he wouldn't be trivializing domestic violence," says Kevin Solis, the spokesman for the immigrant rights group DREAM Team Los Angeles. "His misogyny is showing."
What's more, Solis argues that Sessions' decision strays from the realm of judicial matters and into U.S. immigration policy.
"I am sure there are many crimes his agency isn't pursuing while he tries to turn the [Department of Justice] into an enforcement arm of Immigration, which it isn't," Solis says. "The danger is now many people think Sessions has something to do with immigration and he has nothing to do with it."
Solis expressed that journalists should ask Sessions "why he's making these statements when his department does not oversee immigration."
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An automatic email insisted that the reporter call the Department of Justice for comment after 6 p.m. Eastern. "Under no circumstances should you include in your story that the Department of Justice did not return a request for comment if you did not call the night duty officer to try and get in touch with a Department spokesperson," the email read. Pacific Standard called and left a message with Department of Justice staff.
It remains to be seen whether any of the immigrant rights advocates contacted by Pacific Standard would mount a legal challenge to Sessions' ruling.