USA: New Policy Gives Foreign Victims of Domestic Abuse Access to Asylum
Monday, July 20, 2009 1:06 PM

Victims of domestic abuse in foreign countries may now be able to gain asylum in the United States according to a policy recently introduced by the Obama administration. In order to gain asylum, the victim must meet criteria the administration put in place to narrow the field of applicants the policy may prompt.


As with all applicants for asylum, applicants will have to demonstrate a genuine fear of discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. According to the New York Times, the applicants will also be required to show that their abuser treats them as a subordinate, that their situation will not be relieved by moving to another region in their country of origin, that their country of origin allows domestic abuse, and that institutions in their country of origin do not offer adequate protection from domestic violence. The policy does not include women seeking an escape from female genital mutilation.   


The Obama administration introduced the policy in a case currently taking place in an immigration appeals court. The case involves a woman from Mexico who is seeking asylum in the United States due to severe physical and sexual abuse by a former physical education coach. The abuse took place over a period of approximately twenty years and included an incident in which the abusive man lit the woman’s bed on fire as she was sleeping. According to the New York Times, the local police “dismissed her reports of violence as a ‘private matter’” and “the judge she turned to for help tried to seduce her.”


The woman escaped to California in 2004, but an immigration court rejected her application for asylum in 2006 because she did not meet the criteria required by the Bush administration, which declined to implement reforms suggested by the Clinton administration. Those reforms would have granted asylum to those escaping gender-based crimes such as domestic violence, honor killings, and sexual slavery. The woman’s case will be reconsidered under the new policy. 


For more information, please access the full New York Times article here. 



Compiled from: Julia Preston, “New Policy Permits Asylum for Battered Women,” The New York Times (15 July 2009); “DHS Supports Asylum For Battered Women Denied Help From Their Home Governments,” in Immigrants' Rights Update, vol. 18, no. 2 (02 April 2004); William Fisher, "Battered Women Left in Asylum Limbo," Inter Press Service (27 April 2006).