A Grain Of Saul: The North Korea Summit Was A Photo Op. And It Buried More Immediately Impactful News.

How can we hold North Korea accountable for its own human rights violations if we won’t address the ones happening on our border?

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

On Tuesday, Americans obsessed over the meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un. 

And it's true. The moment the two men shook hands will go down in the history books. But practically speaking, their meeting produced no real developments in the effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. As a point of fact, the joint statement signed by both parties was a weaker agreement than anything signed in recent memory, and no new commitments were put into writing. 


"Forgettable," former U.S. Ambassador to North Korea Chris Hill said about the summit to CNBC journalist John Harwood.  "Joint statement weaker than any previous one since 1992. There is no way forward, no roadmap, no diplomatic strategy."

But the day leading into the summit did produce some news that will have an immediate and earth-shattering impact for thousands of people who are already inside the United States or making their way here: asylum seekers.

Just hours before President Trump's momentous and media-hyped summit, attorney general Jeff Sessions announced  that being a victim of domestic violence or gang violence will no longer qualify an asylum seeker for asylum. His announcement comes in the wake of the administration's decision to actively separate undocumented families from each other in order to deter immigrants from trying to cross illegally, even though some legal immigrants are reportedly also having their children taken from them.

"The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim," Sessions wrote in his decision.

US. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reads from prepared answers in response to a question from one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during his testimony Washington DC, June 13, 2017. Shutterstock / mark reinstein

Previously, asylum seekers could cite American laws that qualify them for asylum if they have been persecuted because of their "membership in a particular social group," which was successfully argued in court to include certain genders or citizens in areas with serious gang-related crime. According to Axios, in 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that "because victims of domestic violence could be specifically classified by both their sex and marital status, they legally qualified for asylum." 

Legally, the move to rescind that decision is dubious. 15 retired immigration judges and former members of the Board of Immigration Appeals responded to Session's decision, explaining their work was a culmination of a 15-year process and described his decision as "an affront to the rule of law."

He has the authority to rescind the ruling, as the immigration court system is under the Justice Department's rule, but he reversed a landmark decision that came after years of debate and court rulings.

Morally, Sessions' decision is repugnant. He has now pulled back the safety net for thousands of women who flee to the United States from places where they are not protected by their own governments and societies. 

The woman whose case led to the landmark decision in 2014, Aminta Cifuentes, had suffered "weekly beatings at the hands of her husband," The New York Times reported. Per The Washington Post, he broke her nose, raped her and even burned her with paint thinner — all while the police in refused to intervene because it was a "domestic matter," according to court filings. 

It was then that she fled to the United States seeking asylum, and it was her case that changed policy for the better. But now Cifuentes and women like her would simply be sent home.

ANAHEIM CALIFORNIA, May 25, 2016: Protesters yell argue with supporters, wave signs and cause trouble for the police at the Republican Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump rally 5.25.2016 Shutterstock / mikeledray

"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?" Karen Musalo, director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, told The New York Times. "I don't see this as just an immigration issue … I see this as a women's rights issue."

This administration has repeatedly called for Americans to be more patriotic and more loving towards their country. The president and his allies have accused Democrats of hating their country, football players of disrespecting it, and immigrants of taking advantage of it. 

But how can one be proud of this nation if we turn our backs on the victims like these? How can we be proud of this country while we separate children from their parents and deprive migrants of their dignity? How can we hold North Korea accountable for its own human rights violations if we won't address the ones happening on our border?

Tuesday's debate about whether Trump's North Korea summit proved fruitful is not a meaningless debate to have, but its immediate impact pales in comparison to what Sessions did on Monday night. Pundits and the lawmakers in our country would be wise to take a break from the Trump show and spend more time talking about this new stance on asylum.

All parties should consider showing the world that we are still a nation that values freedom, welcomes immigrants, and stands up to human rights abuses across the globe.

Cover image via  Joe Farah / Shutterstock and Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock.com.


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