Rhode Island, USA Workers Face Deportation to Abusers
Friday, December 5, 2008 10:45 AM

An article published on Women’s eNews describes the danger facing undocumented women in the United States who await possible deportation. The article reported that some of the 30 undocumented workers arrested during a raid in the state of Rhode Island in July 2008 fear that they will be forced to return to an abusive relationship.

There are a few federal provisions that give aid to undocumented women facing abuse. One is the Violence Against Women Act which allows certain individuals to apply for legal permanent residence based on the abuse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. Another possibility is the U visa, which allows victims of crimes to avoid deportation if they were or are willing to cooperate with law enforcement to find the perpetrator. Unfortunately, none of these laws apply to women married to undocumented men. Moreover, high filing fees often deter women from filing these petitions in the first place.

Women domestic violence victims seeking asylum in the U.S. have an unclear future. Although domestic violence can be a legitimate claim to gender-based persecution, not all cases will win in the Immigration Court system. A 1999 Board of Immigration Appeals decision denied an applicant asylum on the basis of severe domestic violence. Due to outcry from the legal community, and with the help of several U.S. Senators, the woman was able to remain in the U.S. and was subsequently granted asylum. However, no case has yet established a broad gender-based persecution category.

Another problem is that U.S. law does not recognize “a protection-based theory of persecution” but only holds persecution to stem from past harm. (Cited in: Marks, Melissa. “Because I’m a Woman: The Dilemma of Establishing a Causal Nexus in Asylum Claims Brought by Victims of Domestic Violence”, American Bar Association 2007.) This view contradicts provisions of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Overall, there are currently no U.S. government regulations or case-based precedents on asylum based on domestic violence.

Compiled from: Littlefield, Amy, “Rhode Island Workers Face Deportation to Abusers”, Women’s eNews, 9 September 2008; "Refugee Women at Risk: Unfair U.S. Law Hurt Asylum Seekers," Human Rights First, 2002; “Stop Violence Against Women: Gender-Related Asylum,” Amnesty International USA, 12 August 2005.