‘Back to the Dark Ages’: Sessions’s asylum ruling reverses decades of women’s rights progress, critics say

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Aminta Cifuentes suffered weekly beatings at the hands of her husband. He broke her nose, burned her with paint thinner and raped her.

She called the police in her native Guatemala several times but was told they could not interfere in a domestic matter, according to a court ruling. When Cifuentes’s husband hit her in the head, leaving her bloody, police came to the home but refused to arrest him. He threatened to kill her if she called authorities again.

So in 2005, Cifuentes fled to the United States. “If I had stayed there, he would have killed me,” she told the Arizona Republic.

And after nearly a decade of waiting on an appeal, Cifuentes was granted asylum. The 2014 landmark decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals set the precedent that women fleeing domestic violence were eligible to apply for asylum. It established clarity in a long-running debate over whether asylum can be granted on the basis of violence perpetrated in the “private” sphere, according to Karen Musalo, director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

But on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the precedent set in Cifuentes’s case, deciding that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law. (Unlike the federal courts established under Article III of the Constitution, the immigration court system is part of the Justice Department.)

For critics, including former immigration judges, the unilateral decision undoes decades of carefully deliberated legal progress. For gender studies experts, such as Musalo, the move “basically throws us back to the Dark Ages, when we didn’t recognize that women’s rights were human rights.”

“If we say in the year 2018 that a woman has been beaten almost to death in a country that accepts that as almost the norm, and that we as a civilized society can deny her protection and send her to her death?” Musalo said. “I don’t see this as just an immigration issue … I see this as a women’s rights issue.”

Sessions’s decision reversed a 2016 ruling by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, the body responsible for interpreting U.S. asylum law, granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she was abused by her husband. Musalo is co-counsel in the case.

Sessions’s reasoning hinged on the argument that domestic violence victims generally are not persecuted as members of a “particular social group,” according to his ruling. Under federal law, asylum applicants must show that either “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion … was or will be at least one central reason” for their persecution.

In the precedent-setting Cifuentes case, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that an applicant can qualify for asylum as a member of a particular social group of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.” To support its ruling, the board noted that Guatemala has a culture of “machismo and family violence.” Spousal rape is common and local police often fail to enforce domestic violence laws.

Sessions rejected that reasoning. “When private actors inflict violence based on a personal relationship with a victim,” Sessions wrote, “then the victim’s membership in a larger group may well not be ‘one central reason’ for the abuse.”

“The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her,” Sessions wrote. “An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family, or other personal circumstances. Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

As Kara Lynum, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, tweeted, “Sessions thinks these women aren’t eligible for asylum because their husbands are only violent to them — not all women.”

A group of 15 retired immigration judges and former members of the Board of Immigration Appeals wrote a letter in response to Sessions’s decision, calling it an “affront to the rule of law.”

The Cifuentes case, they wrote, “was the culmination of a 15 year process” through the immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals. The issue was certified by three attorneys general, one Democrat and two Republican. The private bar and law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, agreed with the final determination, the former judges wrote. The decision was also supported by asylum protections under international refugee treaties, they said.

“For reasons understood only by himself, the Attorney General today erased an important legal development that was universally agreed to be correct,” the former judges wrote.

Courts and attorneys general have debated the definition of a “particular social group” since the mid-1990s, according to Musalo.

“It took the refugee area a while to catch up with the human rights area of law,” Musalo said.

A series of cases led up to the Cifuentes decision. In 1996, the Board of Immigration Appeals established that women fleeing gender-based persecution could be eligible for asylum in the United States. The case, known as Matter of Kasinga, centered on a teenager who fled her home in Togo to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage. Musalo was lead attorney in the case, which held that fear of female genital cutting could be used as a basis for asylum.

“Fundamentally the principle was the same,” as the one at stake in Sessions’s ruling, Musalo said. Female genital cutting, like domestic violence in the broader sense, generally takes place in the “private” sphere, inflicted behind closed doors by relatives of victims.

Musalo also represented Rody Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who fled extreme domestic abuse and, in 2009, won an important asylum case after a 14-year legal fight. Her victory broke ground for other women seeking asylum on the basis of domestic violence.

Then, after years of incremental decisions, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its first precedent-setting opinion in the 2014 Cifuentes case, known as Matter of A-R-C-G.

“I actually thought that finally we had made some progress,” Musalo said. Although the impact wasn’t quite as pronounced as many experts had hoped, it was a step for women fleeing gender-based violence in Latin America and other parts of the world.

Now, Musalo says, Sessions is trying to undo all that and is doing so at a particularly monumental time for gender equality in the United States and worldwide.

“We’ve gone too far in society with the MeToo movement and all of the other advances in women’s rights to accept this principle,” Musalo said.

“It shows that there are these deeply entrenched attitudes toward gender and gender equality,” she added. “There are always those forces that are sort of the dying gasp of wanting to hold on to the way things were.”

Sessions assigned the 2016 case to himself under his power as attorney general and said the move will help reduce the growing backlog of 700,000 court cases.

He concluded his ruling by saying he does not intend to “minimize the vile abuse” that the Salvadoran woman suffered or the “harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world.” But the “asylum statute is not a general hardship statute,” Sessions wrote.

Relatively few refugees are granted asylum annually. In 2016, for example, nearly 62 percent of applicants were denied asylum, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge and former chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals, wrote on his blog that Sessions sought to encourage immigration judges to “just find a way to say no as quickly as possible.” (Schmidt authored the decision in the Kasinga case extending asylum protection to victims of female genital mutilation.)

Sessions’s ruling is “likely to speed up the ‘deportation railway,’ ” Schmidt wrote. But it will also encourage immigration judges to “cut corners, and avoid having to analyze the entire case,” he argued.

“Sessions is likely to end up with sloppy work and lots of Circuit Court remands for ‘do overs,’ ” Schmidt wrote. “At a minimum, that’s going to add to the already out of control Immigration Court backlog.”

By Samantha Schmidt/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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African-Americans Feel Left Out of the Gun Debate

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As the Parkland kids enjoy an outpouring of support, many who have been fighting for gun reform for years are wondering why no one is listening to them.

Weeks after the Parkland shooting, Johnetta Elzie, a civil rights activist who rose to prominence during the 2014 Ferguson protests, scrolled through her Twitter feed like most Americans, observing how the media treated the Parkland students fighting for gun reform—and she was perplexed.

These students’ ideas and voices were welcomed, she observed, while her voice and others like hers had been shunned and even ignored just four years earlier after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Even though, to her, they were all speaking out against the same thing: gun violence in America.

 The difference was that Elzie had been protesting police violence, specifically, which she believes is a major part of the broader gun violence debate. While the Parkland kids were lauded, she was labeled a “threat actor.” FBI agents attempted to contact her about her plans to protest at the 2016 Republican National Convention, a tactic she insists was meant to intimidate her and her family. Similar complaints and calls to action by advocacy groups like the Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter, NAACP chapters and the American Civil Liberties Union were criticized and classified as attacks on American law enforcement heroes.

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Texas Television Station Slurs Austin Bombing Victim in Closed Captioning The ABC affiliate has publicly apologized for identifying Draylen Mason as “this monkey.”

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Draylen Mason
Photo Credit: Twitter

Texas television station has cut ties with a vendor after closed captioning used racist language to insult a black victim of the Austin bomber.

Local ABC affiliate KVUE-TV reported Tuesday night on the death of 17-year-old Draylen Mason, who was identified in closed captioning as “this monkey,” reported the Statesman.

The station blamed VITAC, an outside company that provides live captioning to KVUE newscasts, and on Thursday terminated its contract with the firm.

“We are taking this mistake very seriously and we are heartsick about this terrible error,” KVUE said in a statement. “We apologize to Draylen’s family and to our community. We have demanded an explanation and an apology to Draylen’s family, and VITAC is complying.”

The station said the move to cut ties with VITAC would have been made sooner, but management needed to ensure they properly followed Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

VITAC apologized for the slur, which the company said was unintentional and the result of a computer error, and pointed out the mistake was corrected immediately on air.

“The unfortunate error which occurred was neither intentional, nor is it a regular or acceptable occurrence in the delivery of our services,” VITAC said. “As a group of professionals we at VITAC are resolutely serious in our commitment to provide, accurate essential accessibility services for the Deaf and Hard Of Hearing community and we are embarrassingly disappointed that we failed to do so today.”

“While we strive for perfection unfortunately we did not achieve that today,” VITAC added. “However although this was not intentional, it is not acceptable and for this we sincerely apologize. The complex algorithms utilized from the technology perspective will, in rare instances, result in an error in delivering a key word, name or phrase either contextually or alphabetically.” KVUE directed viewers to VITAC’s email address and phone number in its own reporting on the racial slur.

By Travis Gettys / Raw Story

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The NRA Can Only Be Stopped at the Ballot Box

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Have the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School changed the game? In the wake of the Parkland massacre that killed 17 children and educators, there’s no question the students have changed the national conversation. Survivors of this mass shooting have called “B.S.” on empty Republican pieties – rejecting “thoughts and prayers” and demanding that lawmakers take action to protect children’s lives from guns, instead of protecting their political futures from the wrath of the National Rifle Association.

Image: AP PHOTO/SUSAN WALSH

But Republican lawmakers have so far acted as if nothing has changed. As Parkland survivors looked on in tears, the Florida House this week voted against even debating legislation to curb assault rifles – and then had the audacity to vote to declare porn a threat to public health. President Trump, meanwhile, has decided to champion NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre’s reckless proposal to arm teachers at school.

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NRA Chief directs rant at Dems, FBI and Media

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Rubio Defends NRA Ties, Says ‘Genie’s Out Of The Bottle’ On AR-15s

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During a tense interview aired Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) again rejected many Floridians’ criticism that certain gun control laws would have prevented Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

He also defended his ties to the National Rifle Association, and blamed congressional inaction regarding such mass shootings on “people just mov[ing] on.”

Rubio hasn’t personally attempted to address mass shootings through legislation, he said, because “we don’t fully understand everything that could’ve been done to prevent this.”

Much of the mourning following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, which left 17 dead and more injured, transformed with surprising speed into passionate political advocacy. And, perhaps aside from President Donald Trump, more of that passion has been directed at Rubio, a large beneficiary of the gun lobby’s support, than anyone else.

“I see this reported, it’s unfair, I’ve never said we can’t do anything,” Rubio said, repeating a point he made on the Senate floor Thursday. He added: “What I have said is that the proposals out there would not have prevented it, and that’s a fact.”

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Rethinking Removing Confederate Memorials: Why This May Not Work Out As Planned

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In Virginia, emotions are running hot. Following the death of one and the injuring of 19 after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters at a white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, the conversation has turned from understanding what happened to preventing it from happening again.

During a contentious city council meeting on August 21 — where an expedited plan to remove the city’s Confederate memorials was agreed upon — many city residents asked why the police maintained such a subdued presence during the protest. In recent months, Charlottesville has become a hot spot for white nationalist protests and gatherings.

Elsewhere, the ACLU has called for legislation that would overturn the Virginia state law protecting war memorials, the NAACP has called for the renaming of two schools currently named for Confederate leaders, and there are talks about renaming Virginia streets honoring the Confederacy.

“Virginia’s monuments and memorials to Confederate war figures must go,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Regardless of origin or historical context, today they are inciteful symbols of hatred and bigotry to which white supremacists are drawn like moths to a flame.”

Historically, acts of violent racial hate have galvanized public opinion in significant ways. Televised coverage of police brutality toward protesters during the civil rights movement helped create the groundswell that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example.

However, there seems to be a disconnect today. The popular push to remove the symbols of racial hate may have surpassed the push to address the effects of racial hate. Increasingly, the national conversation has swung from addressing race-based discrimination to discussing race-based symbolism, to the detriment to the former.

“From the inception of this nation, white supremacist ideology was used to justify genocide and slavery. And so, the problem of collective memory extends far beyond Confederate memorials,” Crystal Marie Fleming, associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, wrote for The Root.

“Removing memorials to white supremacy in the United States is not simply a matter of knocking down statues of Robert E. Lee. It’s relatively easy for some to see the Confederate flag as an emblem of hatred and white supremacy. But slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and centuries of systematic racism all happened under the star-spangled banner.”

Understanding Racism Today

Discussions on racism today have become a political quagmire. Attempts to address major concerns regarding the equitable treatment of individuals based on race tend to move into one of two choke points. At one end, there is the argument that racism today does not exist, is no longer a significant concern today, or is limited to extremists.

At the other end, there is the argument that racial discrimination persists because policies that promote or encourage “victimization” is allowed to continue unchecked. “The MSM [Main Stream Media] spends too much time on cop-on-Black crime and not enough time on the systematic racism of socialism and welfare perpetrated by the same Democrats who used the KKK to enforce Jim Crow and suppress Blacks for decades,” Pablo Solomon, artist, designer, and a regular conservative commentator, told Atlanta Black Star.

 The Problem with Symbols

The argument of removing the memorials to an ‘enemy combatant’ is an important one. As Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out, regarding HBO’s decision to green-light a Confederacy-revisionist themed series, Confederate, “The symbols point to something Confederate’s creators don’t seem to understand — the war is over for them, not for us. At this very hour, black people all across the South are still fighting the battle which they joined during Reconstruction — securing equal access to the ballot — and resisting a president whose resemblance to Andrew Johnson is uncanny.”

The problem in using the removal of racial symbolism to address racial hate lies in the fact that racial hate does not come from racial symbols; focusing on the removal of the monuments is akin to addressing the symptoms and not the disease. In a way, focusing on removing the monuments is another choke point, effectively drawing conversation of racial inequitably to a politically drawn tangent.

“While the removal of Confederate symbols of white supremacy is completely justifiable and repulsively long overdue, it is also important to recognize the fact that the flag of the Union — and, indeed, our current, actual flag — is an emblem of white supremacist racism, too. The nation that existed prior to the Civil War was racist. That country is still racist today. It has never not been racist,” Fleming added.

What is Racial Hate?

This does not diminish the fact that Charlottesville happened. To understand the violence that happened there, one has to look at the nature of racial hate.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 917 hate groups current active in the United States. This number represents a marked increase from the 794 there were in 2014 — the end of a three-year decline due to a transitioning from on-the-ground extremist protesting to Internet-based activities. The resurgence of the extreme fringe was influenced by reports of demographics change — which suggests that this nation will be minority-majority by 2040 and that many states are now minority-majority due to Latino immigration.

However, many feel that the extreme fringe’s reemergence had a singular flash point.

“[Trump] kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers,” Mark Potok, writer and expert on the Radical Right and formerly a senior fellow with the SPLC, wrote. “He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80% of the murders of whites.

“He credentialed racist media personalities even while barring a serious outlet like The Washington Post, went on a radio show hosted by a rabid conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.”

Trump has argued against the removal of Confederacy monuments, stating that it is a slippery slope that will eventually lead to the demand to remove monuments of slaveholders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

While the Trump presidency cannot be fairly blamed for creating the bias that is being seen today, it can be blamed for granting license for it to be expressed openly. In the first 34 days since Election Day 2016, there were 1,094 incidents of racial hate. The highest concentration happened on the first day after Trump’s election.

Among the groups that have emerged in the Trump era are anti-Muslim hate groups, which have seen steady growth for the last two years, and neo-Confederate groups, which were in sharp decline before Election Day due to the collapse of several Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States. Anti-government or “patriot” groups, which dominated the alt-right during the Obama administration, have fallen off due to a co-opting of their platform by Trump.

 Growing Hate Means More Discrimination

With the decline in white birth rates and the growth of the Latinx community, means that the numbers of foreign-born American residents currently in the US is at levels last seen when the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 was introduced. At the same time, the shell-shocked global industrial base has opened up, allowing for the outsourcing abroad of entire economic sectors that once made up the bulk of America’s non-college graduates’ career options.

In conversation with Atlanta Black Star, the psychologist Jerry D. Smith Jr. argues that racial hate is the application of fear in a system of racial discrimination. While racial discrimination comes from the human mind’s tendency to categorize things similar to itself the same way it categorizes itself, racial hate comes from a fundamental rejection of not only what is different, but what is threatening because it is different.

“The causes of this fear may be numerous, but often comes from a fear of losing one’s status, power, or station in life — as is often seen in some from majority cultures,” Smith noted. “It also may come from the fear of never-ending abuse — as may be seen among some from minority cultures.”

“When the fear factor is introduced, those in power (particularly, social and political power) often feel the need to protect themselves and their status by identifying and attacking the thing (i.e., group) that triggers the fear. In order to attack someone, there has to be an emotional detachment from them and the easiest way to do this is to denigrate and dehumanize them. When you have successfully dehumanized someone in your mind, you can engage in all kinds of violent actions toward them without remorse.”

The fact that hate has hijacked the conversation has grave consequences for a conversation on how racial discrimination impacts Black lives on a day to day level. An impact that won’t go away just because the obvious symbols of hate are removed from our streets. The realities of race inequality means:

  • That for the majority of poor Blacks, it is easier to get a Big Mac than a fresh apple, as many low-income Black neighborhoods no longer have a supermarket or a green grocer;
  • That the average Black family would have to live twelve lifetimes to have the same wealth as the average white family;
  • That the average Black person is six times more likely to be sentenced for a drug-related charge, despite no difference per capita in drug use;
  • That there are more African Americans that rent than own their home, that pay more than thirty percent of their take-home income as rent, and that lives in substandard housing — compared to whites;
  • That a white child is twice as likely to be raised in a home that has at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree, is nearly twice as likely to get a bachelor’s degree or better for himself, and is more likely to have been read to, told a story, taught letters, visit a library, or do arts and crafts with other family members;
  • That a Black person is more likely to be killed by the police;
  • That a poor Black person can get better healthcare in Cuba than in the United States; and
  • That an African American is more likely to be born in poverty, live their entire life in poverty, have children that are born in poverty and will die in poverty, and have grandchildren that were born in poverty and will die in poverty, than their white counterpart.

The tragedy of racial hate and the focus on racial symbol is that because they are monopolizing the national conversation, no one is talking about what it really means to be discriminated against.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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