Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
U.S. asylum for foreign victims of domestic violence a possibility

For first time, government considers abused immigrants as potentially protected category.

First Published Aug 27 2014 09:07 pm • Last Updated Aug 27 2014 09:53 pm

Washington • A government immigration board has determined for the first time that domestic violence victims may be able to qualify for asylum in the United States. The ruling comes in the case of a Guatemalan woman who crossed into the U.S. illegally in 2005 after fleeing her husband.

She said she called local police in Guatemala to report the abuse but was repeatedly told that the authorities would not interfere in her marriage. She argued that the abuse and the lack of police response should make her eligible for asylum.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In the first-of-its kind ruling Tuesday, the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, at least in part. In the nine-page decision, the appeals board concluded that the unidentified immigrant met at least one criterion for asylum: as a married Guatemalan woman who couldn’t leave her relationship, she was part of a particular social group.

The Homeland Security Department, which prosecutes deportation cases, did not contest the immigrant’s argument. The appeals board sent the case back to an immigration judge.

The board sent the case back to an immigration judge for a final ruling.

The ruling by the board that decides appeals from federal immigration courts is significant because it means that the government now recognizes domestic violence victims as a potentially protected class of people seeking refuge in the United States.

The decision establishes a broad and firm foothold for an untold number of women whose asylum claims have been routinely denied in the past.

But proving all the elements of any asylum case can still be difficult. Those seeking protection have to prove they will be persecuted in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. They also have to prove that their home government is either involved in the persecution or unable or unwilling to stop it.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling will impact thousands of pending asylum cases and thousands more that could be filed now that the government has recognized domestic violence victims as a potential class of persecuted people.

More than 62,000 people traveling as families, most of them women and young children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been apprehended at the Mexican border since Oct. 1. They all face deportation.


story continues below
story continues below

Even though ultimately winning asylum in the U.S. is a long shot for most immigrants, just having a pending asylum case in immigration court can be something of a victory for immigrants fearful of being sent home. Those who can convince a federal asylum officer that their case should be heard by a judge are allowed to stay in the country and legally work while their case is decided. Because of a backlog of about 375,000 pending deportation cases, that process can take several years.

Tuesday’s ruling does not automatically mean the woman and her children will be granted asylum, though her lawyer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he believes she will ultimately win.

"We are going to win, (but) it’s going to be a long time," said Roy Petty, an Arkansas immigration lawyer who represented her in the case. He said the court backlog could delay a final decision for years longer.

Guatemala ranked third in the world for the murder of women, according to statistics cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies last year. In a 2012 report on violence against women, the Pan American Health Organization said that from 2008 to 2009 more than one-quarter of Guatemalan women said they had at some point suffered physical or sexual violence from a spouse or partner.

The ruling technically affects only Guatemalan women, but Petty and other immigration advocates said the decision could open the door to asylum claims for women from other countries.

"The decision for this Guatemalan woman has clear implications for other Central American women, that’s for sure," said Benjamin Casper, director of Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School. "This is the first binding decision ... to recognize this social group of women."

———

Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.