Immigration Court Gives First Approval of Asylum for Domestic Abuse

Monday, September 01, 2014
Guatemalan Deportees (photo: Fakal Koban, Reuters)

The Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals ruled last week that women who are domestic violence victims who are unable to leave their relationship are members of a particular class that can qualify for asylum in the United States.


Aminta Cifuentes fled Guatemala in 2005 with her two children after enduring abuse from her husband including weekly beatings, rape and being doused with burning paint thinner. She sought help from Guatemalan police, but was told they wouldn’t intervene in a domestic dispute.

Her petition for asylum in the United States was originally denied, but the appeals board ruled (pdf) that battered spouses such as Cifuentes were members of a “particular social group,” which could qualify for asylum if they prove they are persecuted in their home country. Members of such groups must prove that their home governments are involved in the persecution or unwilling or unable to stop it, according to the Associated Press. The Pan American Health Organization reported in 2012 that from 2008 to 2009 more than a quarter of Guatemalan women said they had suffered physical or sexual violence from a spouse or partner at some point in the relationship.


“Women who have suffered violence in these cases can now rely on the legal principles established in this ruling,” Karen Musalo, a professor and director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, who was an adviser to Cifuentes, told The New York Times. “A judge can no longer say, ‘I believe these horrible things happened to you but this is just a criminal act, this is not persecution.’” 


For now, the ruling applies only to women from Guatemala and those applying for asylum will have to meet strict requirements to get it.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

U.S. to Consider Spousal Abuse In Immigration Claims (by Alicia A. Caldwell, Associated Press)

In First for Court, Woman Is Ruled Eligible for Asylum in U.S. on Basis of Domestic Abuse (by Julia Preston, New York Times)

Matter of A-R-C-G- et al., Respondents (pdf)

Can I Apply for Asylum If I'm From Guatemala? (Nolo)

U.S. May Grant Asylum Rights to Victims of Spousal Abuse (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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