The Justice Department defended a Trump administration decision that overturned asylum protections for victims of domestic violence and gang violence before an appeals court panel on Monday, arguing that the administration was simply trying to establish clear standards.
Government attorney Erez Reuveni argued the attorney general's ruling laid out a standard and served as a reminder to asylum officers of that standard.
The controversial asylum decision is one of several policies rolled out by the administration to curtail asylum claims in the United States.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is among the groups that sued to block the policy, pushed back on the government's arguments, saying the policy was intended to "ratchet up the credible fear standard."
The legal fight is over a decision by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018 that set a high bar for victims of crime to qualify for asylum, saying that victims must show that their home country was unable or unwilling to assist them and that "the government condoned the private actions." A federal judge blocked the policy.
In their questioning Monday, Judges David Tatel and Thomas Griffith seemed to acknowledge the weight of many of these cases and the vulnerable people behind them.
It's "more helpful to us to think of concrete examples," Griffith said. They also questioned Reuveni over what scenarios an individual would qualify as part of a social group and how a case would meet the threshold laid out in the ruling.
At issue is a part of asylum law that protects members of a "particular social group" who are victims of persecution. Immigration courts had previously held that women in Central America facing domestic abuse qualified.
But during his tenure as attorney general, Sessions said that was no longer the case, effectively narrowing what the government considers grounds for asylum.
Over the course of Donald Trump's presidency, the administration has sought to curtail asylum protections, claiming that migrants have exploited the nation's laws. "Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world," Sessions, who has since left the administration, said last year in announcing his decision.
Since then, the administration has unveiled a series of asylum regulations that make it more difficult for some migrants to seek refuge in the United States. Those regulations are also facing legal challenges.