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US to consider spousal abuse in immigration claims

August 27, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a first-of-its-kind ruling that could make it easier for some immigrant women to win permission to remain legally in the United States, the Justice Department Board of Immigration Appeals has determined that Guatemalan women who fled their country due to domestic violence can qualify for asylum.

The board, which decides appeals in cases first heard by immigration courts run by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, ruled that married women in Guatemala who have been victims of domestic violence and are unable to leave their relationship can be considered a particular social group in asylum cases.

The ruling, issued Tuesday, is important because it establishes for the first time that domestic violence victims can qualify for asylum in the United States.

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.

The new case involved a Guatemalan mother of three who crossed the border illegally in December 2005 after fleeing her husband. She said she called local police in Guatemala several times to report the abuse, but was repeatedly told that the authorities would not interfere in her marriage. She said that the abuse and the lack of police response should make her eligible for asylum.

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 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 cited a significant backlog in immigration court — there are more than 375,000 cases pending — that could delay final adjudication of the woman’s asylum claim for years longer.

Asylum law requires applicants to prove they may 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.

Guatemala ranked third in the world for the murder of women, according to Center for Strategic and International Studies last year. In a 2012 report on violence against women, the Pan American Health Organization reported 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 the woman’s lawyer 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

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