The Justice Department Wednesday rolled back strict limits on asylum imposed by the Trump administration that blocked victims of domestic abuse and even gang violence from qualifying for such protection.
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued the rulings in a pair of decisions, following an executive order from President Joe Biden directing the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to promulgate new asylum regulations.
"These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our Nation's asylum laws, which reflect America's commitment to providing refuge to some of the world's most vulnerable people," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote in a memorandum outlining the decision.
The Trump-era restrictions, first announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, represented a dramatic shift from past practice and included the plights of Central American women who had sought safe haven from troubled domestic relationships in which they were subjected to repeated physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
"Our nation's immigration laws provide for asylum to be granted to individuals who have been persecuted, or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their membership in a particular social group," the Justice Department said in a written statement accompanying Sessions' opinion at the time. "But victims of personal crimes do not fit this definition — no matter how vile and reprehensible the crime perpetrated against them."
The new action, Gupta wrote, returns "the law to its preexisting status pending the rulemaking process, which will allow these complex and important questions to be resolved with the benefit of full public comment."
Immigration rights advocates, which had pressed for the Trump policy to be vacated, lauded Wednesday's decision.
“This is great news for people fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence, or who are at risk of violence because of their family ties," Human Rights First said in a statement. "Attorney General Sessions arbitrarily declared that survivors of domestic violence would no longer qualify for asylum as a general matter and made sweeping comments about those fleeing gang-related violence..."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee, said the Trump policy "ran contrary to existing precedent" and "weakened our moral standing in the world."
“The United States has long been a safe haven for victims of violence," Feinstein said. "The attorney general’s decisions reaffirm that core American value and our commitment to helping those fleeing persecution.”
Contributing: Kristine Phillips
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DOJ rolls back Trump administration's strict asylum limits