This summer, the Board of Immigration Appeals found that women who are victims of domestic violence in their home countries, can seek asylum in the United States. This landmark decision finally resolved the issue of whether this type of abuse could make the women eligible as victims of persecution for the purposes of asylum.
Immigration lawyers have fought for decades, arguing that severe domestic violence in these women's home countries was persecution, and sending them home would result in further violence, or even death at the hands of their abusers. Previously, these cases of women suffering violence and abuse would not be considered the type of persecution required to be admitted for asylum.
Aminita Cifuentes came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2005 after fleeing an abusive husband. She also reported that local police were not able to protect her. An immigration judge denied her application to stay in the U.S. She appealed that decision, and the Board of Immigration Appeals found that Ms. Cifuentes was indeed a member of a group of married women who cannot escape abusive husbands in Guatemala. This came as a major shift in how these cases are treated, after President Obama's administration changed their position. As a result, the Board found that Aminita Cifuentes could qualify for asylum.
Critics of the decision argue that this will create another surge in immigration. Some groups seeking to reduce immigration to the U.S. fear that the refugee system will be overwhelmed. According to Michael M. Hethmon, with Federation for American Immigration Reform, “a lot of these cases are undeniably horrific, but do we want to destroy our refugee system to make these ultimately political statements about domestic violence?”
Immigrant advocates argue this decision will save lives. Karen Musalo, a director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies indicated that the precedent set by this case will provide relief to domestic violence victims. The decision has clarified that these women are member of a “particular social group,” to qualify as a refugee for the purpose of asylum.
Already, other similarly situated women seeking asylum are having their cases heard before immigration judges. A woman identified as Heidy, is the first test case of Board's ruling recognizing domestic abuse as a basis for seeking asylum. Heidy relayed her story of abuse, rape and threats at gunpoint, at the hands of her husband. She reported going to the authorities for help, who said her best option was to leave her home country of Honduras. The judge found that her's was a textbook case for asylum.
Co-counsel on Heidy's case stated that attorneys interviewing other women at the Artesia, New Mexico family detention center found that more than half reported domestic violence in their home country. This may complicate the president's previous position, requesting additional money from Congress to accelerate the screening and deportation of young immigrants who are not from Mexico. However, lawsuits brought on behalf of immigrants have already criticized the fast-track deportations as failing to provide due process.