Today's Times reports that the Obama Administration is recommending a Guatemalan woman receive asylum in the U.S. after over a decade of struggle. The decision has made waves in immigration/asylum law by providing a precedent for females fleeing domestic violence.
The Times explains:
After 14 years of legal indecision, during which several immigration courts and three attorneys general considered Ms. Alvarado's case, the Department of Homeland Security cleared the way for her in a one-paragraph document filed late Wednesday in immigration court in San Francisco. Ms. Alvarado, the department found, "is eligible for asylum and merits a grant of asylum as a matter of discretion."
One of the issues at play in the case was about how we define persecution:
The large legal question in the case is whether women who suffer domestic abuse are part of a "particular social group" that has faced persecution, one criteria for asylum claims. In a separate asylum case in April, the Department of Homeland Security pointed to some specific ways that battered women could meet this standard.
In a recent filing, Ms. Alvarado's lawyers argued that her circumstances met the requirements that the department had outlined in April. Now the department has agreed, in practice making the case a model for other asylum claims.
However, Alvarado was able to strengthen her case by pointing to the environment facing women in Guatemala:
In a declaration filed recently to bolster Ms. Alvarado's argument that she was part of a persecuted group in Guatemala, an expert witness, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, reported that more than 4,000 women had been killed in domestic violence there in the last decade. These killings, only 2 percent of which have been solved, were so frequent that they earned their own legal term, "femicide," said Ms. Paz y Paz Bailey, a Guatemalan lawyer. In 2004 Guatemala enacted a law establishing special sanctions for the crime.
"Many times," she said, violence against Guatemalan women "is not even identified as violence, is not perceived as strange or unusual."
Opening up claims for asylum to situations like domestic violence and femicide would be a huge boon to women in conflict situations around the world. In addition to providing a path for women to exit a country when the local authorities fails to rectify widespread violence against women (like the situations in Juarez, Mexico and Guatemala City), it also increases the chances for females fleeing violent situations to be able to make a complete break with their pasts and start over.
Though the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department warn that they will look at domestic violence claims on a case by case basis, it's still a major step forward.