Posted on September 16, 2014

US Court Rules Foreign Victims of Domestic Violence Can Seek Asylum

Raf Sanchez, Telegraph (London), August 30, 2014

An American court has found for the first time that foreign women who suffer domestic violence in their home countries can have grounds to seek asylum in the US.

The decision is likely to be used by Latin American women fighting deportation from the US and could potentially trigger a new wave of asylum seekers fleeing violence at home.

It may also spark fresh rancour among Americans who believe the White House should be turning back the tens of thousands of women and unaccompanied children who have arrived at the southern border this year.

The case was brought by Aminta Cifuentes, a Guatemalan mother-of-three who fled to the US in 2005 to escape her abusive husband.

The husband beat her, raped her and burned her breasts by throwing corrosive paint thinner at her, according to court documents.

Ms Cifuentes tried calling the police but officers told her “they would not interfere in a marital relationship”. She also ran to her father’s home but her husband tracked her down and brought her back to the house.

American immigration law requires that asylum seekers prove they are part of a group that is suffering persecution, for example a religious minority being harried by a government.

Battered women, whose cases were all seen as separate and distinct incidents of violence, were not considered “a group”.

But in the Cifuentes case, the Obama administration agreed to acknowledge “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” as a specific group.

The court found there was “unrebutted evidence that Guatemala has a culture of ’machismo and family violence’” and that police often refused to intervene.

Ms Cifuentes, who has been living in the US for nine years, must still prove a number of other criteria before she can be granted asylum and her case has been sent back to a lower court.

The ruling applies only to women in Guatemala but it raises the possibility that women from any country rife with domestic violence could seek asylum in the US.

The US is currently seeking to deport many of the women who arrived at the border since the spring, fleeing violence and gangs in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Some of those women may now argue they qualify for asylum because they face abusive husbands at home.