Domestic Violence Now Considered Basis for Asylum

On August 26, 2014, after many years of silence on the issue, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the nation’s highest immigration court, ruled for the first time that in certain circumstances victims fleeing domestic violence in their home countries can qualify for asylum in the United States. Under the immigration law, foreign nationals may qualify for asylum if they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or “membership in a particular social group.” The nine-page BIA decision upholds the long-time position of women’s rights advocates, like HIAS PA, that victims of domestic violence fit into the social group category. In this case, the BIA found that the respondent, a Guatemalan woman, “suffered repugnant abuse by her husband,” including weekly beatings and rape, and found no recourse from the Guatemalan police, from whom she repeatedly sought protection. Specifically, the BIA confirmed that she is part of a social group of married women in Guatemala who cannot escape their spouses. HIAS PA is hopeful that this case will save the lives of more courageous survivors of domestic violence.  


Press release from the Center of Gender and Refugee Studies:


Highest U.S. Immigration Tribunal Recognizes Domestic Violence as a Basis for Asylum

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) today issued a landmark ruling, Matter of A-R-C-G-, with the potential to affect immigrant women across the country. As CGRS has done with so many asylum cases based on domestic violence, we assisted the attorney in this case (Roy Petty) with briefing and strategy, and we filed an amicus brief in support of the client.

CGRS has pioneered this area of the law in two internationally known cases – starting with the case of Rody Alvarado, Matter of R-A-, and then in Matter of L-R-. CGRS Director Karen Musalo, working with her colleagues at CGRS, represented both women. In 2004, and again in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) set forth its position that women fleeing intimate partner violence can qualify for asylum and agreed to grants of asylum in R-A- and L-R-, respectively. These were important victories, signaling that these cases are viable, but they did not set precedent. Now, for the first time, we have binding precedent to support domestic violence survivors who seek protection in the United States.

In addition to this trailblazing work, CGRS has maintained a steadfast commitment to helping asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence and other forms of gender-based persecution. Today’s decision has been more than a decade in the making. During that time, CGRS has assisted thousands of attorneys, prepared expert declarations, produced practice advisories, researched countless country conditions reports, filed dozens of amicus briefs, and represented asylum seekers as counsel.

In this case, the government of Guatemala failed to intervene when Ms. C-G-‘s husband broke her nose, repeatedly beat and raped her and burned her with paint thinner. “Governments have the obligation to protect the human rights and physical integrity of all of their citizens, without discrimination. When a government does not take violence against women seriously, and allows brutal violence to be committed with impunity, asylum is the appropriate remedy. We are glad that the BIA finally acknowledged this principle,” said Professor Musalo.

It took 15 years to get here, during which we advocated for the issuance of gender regulations and to recognize the validity of domestic violence claims. Now CGRS and our allies will work to make sure that this decision leads to refuge for more women, including those caught up in this latest surge of migration to our borders.

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