Sen. Jeff Sessions Spotlights Expansion Of Immigration Protection Standards

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

During a Thursday panel hearing on President Obama’s new program to fly Central Americans to the U.S. as refugees and aslyees, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) pressed administration officials on new guidance dealing with who qualifies for protection.

“It changes the standards. It’s breathtaking in its liberality with regard to what a refugee is and I believe it’s quite contrary to any standard we’ve used before in any other situation,” Sessions said.

Included in the USCIS document — “Update On New And Novel PSGS” — Sessions’ highlighted are people who have reported a gang or cartel crime and female heads of households.

“So female head of household has some sort of preferential status as a refugee? Isn’t that a different standard? And just because you’ve reported a crime to law enforcement you now have a right to be a refugee and apply to the United States?” Sessions said.

USCIS Associate Director For Refugee, Asylum And International Operations Joseph Langlois responded that the area is “evolving.”

“Under the particular social group it is an evolving area of law, however there are tenants that must be strictly adhered to the quality the characteristic of the individual has to be immutable, it has to be socially distinct, it has to have particularity and the case has to be made on an individual basis,” he said.

The Washington Times first reported on the 27-page document Sessions was referencing Thursday, reporting that it offers examples of the kinds of people who should be able to qualify for protected immigration status.

The guidance offers several specific examples of cases where those seeking to enter the country should be deemed asylum applicants, including a woman whose husband abandoned her, and who received threats from a gang because she no longer lived with her husband

“Living without a male to head the household is fundamental: not something applicant should be required to change,” the USCIS guidance concluded in determining that such a person would be considered part of a protected social group on the basis of her living alone and the macho “cultural pattern” of Latin America.

If the gang didn’t mention the woman’s living along or being a single mother in its threats, though, then she wouldn’t qualify, the guidance said.

In the crime witness or victim examples, USCIS said someone who reported a gang-related burglary and who was threatened afterwards qualified as a member of a “cognizable” protected group.

“I think the pattern here it to clearly go farther than we have before,” Sessions concluded in the hearing.