Guatemalan Women Could Get Asylum Due to Murders

Paul Elias, San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 2010

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At issue is defining a “particular social group” that is persecuted and qualifies for political asylum in the United States. Women who fear genital mutilation or victims of domestic abuse have all been deemed “social groups” and granted asylum here.

On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered immigration judges to seriously consider granting asylum to Guatemalan women who fear they will be murdered.

There’s no debate over the country’s deplorable murder rate: more than 3,800 women killed since 2000–and close to 800 last year–and fewer than 2 percent of the cases are solved in the male-dominated culture, according to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.

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“While we have not held expressly that females, without other defining characteristics, constitute a particular social group, we have concluded that females, or young girls of a particular clan, met our definition of a particular social group,” Judge Richard Paez wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

Such a determination would continue an expansion of asylum eligibility beyond the traditional claims of political and religious oppression. Successful asylum applicants have to show they were persecuted because of religion, political beliefs, race, nationality or membership in a particular social group.

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The U.S. Department of Justice said it received 3,250 asylum applications from Guatemalans in fiscal year 2009 and granted 155. Only natives of China and El Salvador made more asylum claims–9,336 and 3,458, respectively. The DOJ received a total of 39,279 applications and granted 10,186 asylum requests in the same period.

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There are an estimated 1.5 million Guatemalans in the United States and migration makes it one of the highest undocumented populations, she [Kelsey Alford-Jones of the Washington D.C.-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission] said. {snip}

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There are about 17 deaths per day in Guatemala City, a city of 2 million. However, experts agree that violence against women is proportionally worse there than in other places.

“It’s scandalous, from the standpoint of a nation, that all women are eligible for asylum just because we are women. But the numbers are there. Statistics show that it (violence) is proportionally higher,” said Carmen Rosa de Leon Escribano, director of the Center for Education for Sustained development, a nonprofit group that studies violence in Guatemala.

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