Clarity on Asylum

Sep 24, 2010

The Obama Administration clarified the standard that domestic abuse victims need to meet in order to get asylum last month when it granted asylum to L.R. – a Mexican woman who requested asylum because she feared her common-law husband would kill her.

Court papers stated that L.R.’s husband repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her captive, stole her earnings, and tried to burn her alive when he discovered that she was pregnant. Local police and judges dismissed her reports of violence, and one local judge offered L.R. protection if she would sleep with him.

The Department of Homeland Security laid out a narrow path for some battered women to receive asylum in the United States in April. L.R.’s lawyers went back and presented new evidence – that L.R. could not expect the Mexican authorities to protect her and that she could not safely relocate anywhere in the country – to meet the new standards.

This ruling, “brings new clarity to asylum law after almost 15 years of arcane and tangled legislation, when claims from domestic abuse victims were regularly dismissed by immigration judges,” the New York Times reports.

L.R.’s lawyers said her case will not lead to a surge of refugees coming to the United States, because the hurdles remain high for battered women to win asylum. Homeland Security spokesperson Matthew Chandler told the New York Times that the department would proceed cautiously with asylum claims based on sexual abuse, but that “The department continues to view domestic violence as a possible basis for asylum in the United States.” He said, “Each case requires scrutiny of the specific threat the applicant faces.”

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