Attorney General Jeff Sessions limits asylum for domestic violence victims

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday overturned a key immigration case that had granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman raped and beaten by her former husband.

The decision could have wide-ranging impacts on immigrants seeking refuge in the United States from violence in their home countries.

Sessions' decision followed his unusual move to personally intervene in the case, known as the "Matter of A-B-." The woman, who is only identified by her initials, had won an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals to overturn a lower immigration court judge's denial of her asylum petition.

"In reaching these conclusions, I do not minimize the vile abuse that the respondent reported she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband," Sessions wrote in his order.

"I understand that many victims of domestic violence may seek to flee from their home countries to extricate themselves from a dire situation or to give themselves the opportunity for a better life," he continued. "But the 'asylum statute is not a general hardship statute.'"

Unlike the federal judiciary system, the U.S. immigration courts fall under the Justice Department's jurisdiction, and the attorney general can intervene.

In immigration court, certain opinions published by the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest immigration court, serve to set national legal precedent. However, as the United States' chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general can intervene in its decisions to shape law.

Sessions has been unusually active in this practice compared to his predecessors by exercising his intervention authority to make it tougher for some people to legally remain in the United States.

(Reporting by Reade Levinson and Sarah N. Lynch, additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, editing by G Crosse and Jonathan Oatis)