Ayaan Hirsi Ali has long been a conservative icon for every ill that afflicts the Muslim world from misogyny to religious extremism. She endured
genital mutilation at the hands of her orthodox grand mother at the age of five in her native Somalia. And, later, when her family forced her into an arranged marriage to a man she claims she had never met, she fled and sought asylum in the Netherlands to escape the obligatory honor killing that her ex-husband and father's brothers would have been required to perform as per Somali custom.
Ali eventually settled in the United State and became an outspoken critic of Islam, her story epitomizing the clash of civilization's between Western liberalism and Muslim fanaticism for the American right. But it's an open question whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions would grant this conservative darling asylum if she were to petition the United States right now – or whether he'd hand her a one-way ticket back home to Somalia.
A disturbing report by Vox.com's Dara Lind notes that in the name of streamlining the immigration hearing process and expedite deportations, Sessions is arrogating to himself sweeping powers to disregard due process, overrule immigration courts, trash precedent and violate long-standing legal norms. In effect, Sessions is appointing himself the Immigration Czar of America who has carte blanche to do anything he wants.
As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Lind explains, an attorney general has the power to take over cases that the Board of Immigration Appeals has already reviewed and issue a new ruling that immigration courts would be required to use as guiding precedent in future cases. Sessions' predecessors have rarely used these powers (presumably because it is audacious to substitute their own judgement for that of a court that has spent copious time pondering the case) but in just this year he has done so not once, not twice, but three times.
But that's not the worst of it, she notes. Contrary to standing practice, Sessions is withholding information about which cases he's picking to review and what legal question he might be trying to clarify. Usually, an AG shares this information with relevant parties and solicits amicus briefs so that he has all the necessary information in making his ruling. But Sessions is choosing to tell neither the Department of Justice's own lawyers nor ICE prosecutors—much less attorneys representing immigrants, making it difficult for anyone to weigh in on the human rights and legal considerations that might be at stake.
But from the cases that Sessions has picked, it seems he's interested in weighing in on three issues, namely, whether immigration judges should be allowed to use:
One: "administrative closure" to remove cases from their docket and put them on pause to stop deportation proceedings against "low priority" unauthorized immigrants who have family ties in the United States or have other compelling reasons for staying. The use of closures has already dropped precipitously from 56,000 in Obama's last year in office to 20,000 now. This option allows immigration judges to conduct a kind of triage – focus on deporting criminal aliens as opposed to law-abiding immigrants who pose no threat to anyone. It also arguably allows legal immigrant and American citizens, about 4,000 of who get swept into America's deportation regime in any given year, as I have reported previously, time to make their case and avoid a massive travesty. Doing away with this provision might clear the deportation backlog, to be sure, but only by making many Americans and legal residents more vulnerable to being illicitly banished.
Two: "continuances" to give a delayed deportation "hearing" to those who are either eligible to apply for legal status from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service or waiting for a final verdict on their case.
Three: claims of private violence to hand asylum as they might have done in Hirsi Ali's case.
In a March self-referral, Sessions asked whether a judge should be allowed to grant asylum to a domestic violence survivor because she was a victim of "private violence" — violence that wasn't state-based. Theoretically, asylum is supposed to be available only for victims of certain types of persecution, but some judges have found that women in some countries who experience domestic violence are being persecuted for membership in the "social group" of being women.
If Sessions' rules that victims of violence from "nonstate actors" are not legitimate candidates for asylum, all women and children fleeing gang violence in Latin America would automatically be disqualified, of course. But so would women like Hirsi Ali. After all, she wasn't being hounded by the Somali government, just her fanatical husband and in-laws under the spell of a regressive Islam.
If conservatives go along with Sessions' in that event, they'll show that they hate immigrants more than violent extremists. The real of clash of civilizations we should worry about under this AG is not between the West and the Islamic world – but within the conservative soul itself.