Last week, in a groundbreaking ruling, the Board of Immigration Appeals finally recognized that a woman who has suffered domestic violence may be eligible for asylum.
Asylum is available for certain people who fear harm in their home countries. However, not every person who is afraid to return to their home country, or even every person who has been harmed in their home country, is eligible for asylum. There are very narrow and specific requirements that must be met. A person seeking asylum must demonstrate that he or she is unable to return to his or her home country because she has been persecuted (or has a well-founded fear of persecution) on account of her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group, and that the home country’s government is unable or unwilling to protect that person. Each phrase of this definition has a specific legal meaning.
In 1999, a Guatemalan woman who had been severely abused by her husband applied for asylum. She is known by her initials, R.A. The Immigration Judge approved her application. However, the attorneys for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service disagreed with the judge’s decision and appealed. For almost 10 years, the case bounced back and forth between the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Attorney General’s office, with no ruling that other potential applicants could use as guidance, and no resolution to R.A.’s case. Finally, the application was sent back to the Immigration Judge. The parties agreed that R.A. was eligible for asylum. However, though R.A. was granted asylum, there was no court opinion issued that could be helpful to other potential applicants, or that could serve as guidance to other judges deciding applications.
Finally, on August 26, 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a precedential opinion about a woman, also Guatemalan, who suffered domestic violence. The Board ruled that a woman who suffered domestic violence at the hands of her intimate partner may be eligible for asylum. Of course, it is not as simple as declaring, “I was abused,” or even as proving the abuse. This woman fit into a group of “married women who are unable to leave their relationship” which, for the first time, the Board held met the “social group” standard necessary for asylum. On the facts of that case, the Board also decided that she had proved that the abuse she suffered was severe enough that it could be called “persecution,” and that she was abused “on account of” her membership in that social group.
This ruling is significant because Immigration Judges here in Chicago and across the nation must now recognize that a battered and abused woman may have lawful and complete claim for asylum. Women who have fled their abusers in their home countries now have a recognized basis to seek protection here, through the asylum process.
The case is known as Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014).
–Update by Erin C. Cobb
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The KB&A Team