The Justice Department on Wednesday expanded the types of cases that can qualify for asylum, revoking two Trump-era decisions that had restricted claims based on domestic violence or gang activity in migrants’ home countries.
Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision could reopen the door to more cases that involved people fleeing their own families or local communities.
The Trump administration had argued it was returning to the original intent of the asylum system that envisioned people fleeing actual government persecution, rather than gang violence or domestic abuse claims that are common in most countries.
But immigrant-rights advocates say the asylum system had been able to accommodate those claims for some years before Mr. Trump, and can do so again.
“Rescinding these cruel decisions is the first critical step to returning to our humanitarian obligations,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council.
Federal courts had blunted the full effect of the Trump-era rulings.
Mr. Garland’s actions deal with precedent in the immigration courts, which are a division of the Justice Department.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Attorney General William P. Barr, flexing their powers, had issued decisions in two cases before the immigration courts setting a precedent that the abuse claims didn’t automatically qualify. They argued that some persecution by a government entity was required for an asylum claim.
Mr. Garland on Wednesday erased the two Trump precedents.
Immigration advocates said they want to see Mr. Garland go further and issue new rules that would affirmatively make abuse claims grounds for asylum.