United States: Domestic Violence Victims May Qualify for Asylum
Sunday, August 31, 2014 10:40 PM

For the first time, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) has recognized the right of a domestic violence victim to apply for asylum in the United States. The Board’s decision was made in the case of a woman who fled to the U.S. in 1995 with her three children after suffering years of severe domestic abuse in Guatemala, including repeated beatings, rape and chemical burns. She attempted to leave her husband several times, but he threatened to kill her if she did not return and she received little help from the police who refused to interfere in her marriage.

The Board determined that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” constitute a particular social group, allowing a member of that group to apply for asylum. In making its determination, the Board found that Guatemala had a culture of “family violence,” that spousal rape was common, and that the police “often failed to respond to requests for assistance” in domestic violence cases.

According to Ada Valenzuela of the National Union of Guatemalan Women, “[f]rom a political standpoint it is an acknowledgment that violence against women does not constitute a 'private' problem – as the immigration court has previously understood it – but a social and political issue that affects many women who do not get a response from the state.”

The Board sent the woman’s case back to an immigration judge for a final determination on the merits of her asylum claim, which could take several years. The woman will be allowed to stay in the country until her case is resolved.

Compiled from: US Court Sets Precedent by Ruling Guatemalan Domestic Violence Victim Can Seek Asylum, Telesur (August 31, 2014); Caldwell, Alicia, US to Consider Spousal Abuse in Immigration Claims, Associated Press and ABC News (August 27, 2014); Matter of A-R-C-G- et al., Respondents, U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Board of Immigration Appeals (August 26, 2014).