On Dec. 19, a federal judge ruled that new Justice Department policies designed to make it harder for immigrants to claim asylum violated federal laws. The decision, which could affect immigrants in Tennessee and the rest of the United States, was handed down in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The new policies, which were ordered by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, eliminated the ability of immigrants to cite a “credible fear” of domestic abuse or gang brutality as the basis for asylum. Sessions argued that the U.S. asylum program cannot be viewed as a blanket solution for “all misfortune” suffered by immigrants. He further argued that an individual’s fear of becoming a crime victim in his or her home country was not enough to qualify them for asylum.

However, in a stinging rebuke, the judge with the U.S. District Court in Washington called the new DOJ policies “arbitrary, capricious and in violation of the immigration law.” He further stated that the standard for expedited immigration removals was determined by Congress, not the “whims” of a president. His 107-page ruling went on to permanently bar the government from applying the new policies and ordered immigration officials to provide asylum seekers with credible fear interviews and hearings as mandated by U.S. immigration laws. The decision was applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued the government over the new policies in federal court. Meanwhile, the DOJ petitioned the judge to stay his ruling while it decides whether to file an appeal.

Individuals seeking asylum can contact an immigration attorney for guidance. The attorney could explain all legal options available, help prepare the necessary applications and represent a client’s interests during immigration hearings.