Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Asylum Granted to Honduran Victim of Domestic Abuse

Today, Arlington Immigration Court Judge Thomas Snow granted asylum to a woman from Honduras who was a victim of domestic abuse.  For a little over two years, the woman suffered physical, mental and economic abuse at the hands of her common law husband, who threatened to find her and kill her if she ever attempted to leave.  The woman was only able to escape when a neighbor intervened to pull the husband off of the woman as the husband was attempting to choke her after an argument over the husband’s mistress.  Taking the neighbor’s advice, the woman made the treacherous journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States.  Once in the United States, the woman was taken into custody by Border Patrol, and placed in removal proceedings.

As counsel to the woman, we submitted evidence demonstrating that Honduras is a deeply-rooted patriarchal society, where women get their identities first from their fathers and then from their husbands.  For a single woman living alone, access to credit and good jobs is virtually impossible.  As a result, women become dependent on their husbands, and are often treated like property and abused.  The State Department, in its annual human rights reports on Honduras, reports that rape and domestic abuse are significant problems in Honduras, as is femicide, or the murder of a woman by her significant other.  In 2008, the State Department cited statistics showing that 90% of femicides in Honduras went unpunished.

Victims of domestic abuse receive little help from governmental authorities.  According to Claudia Herrmansdorfer of the Center for Women’s Rights in Tegucigalpa, the police tend to treat domestic violence as an issue that should be resolved by the couple, and do not intervene.  Likewise, prosecutors tend not to bring cases of domestic violence to court.  This means that women in an abusive relationship in Honduras receive little, if any, protection from the government.

Asylum can be granted where an applicant can show that she fears that she will be persecuted if returned to her home country because of one of five protected categories:  (1) political opinion; (2) race; (3) religion; (4) nationality or (5) membership in a particular social group.  For victims of domestic abuse, the difficulty had been to fit the reason for the abuse into one of these five categories.  In 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected an asylum application where the applicant claimed to be part of a particular social group defined as “Guatemalan women intimately involved with abusive Guatemalan male companions who believe that women are to live under male dominance.”  In 2001, the Attorney General exercised his discretion to reverse the BIA’s decision, and remand it back to Board for reconsideration.  No published opinion has resulted from that remand.

The recent trend, however, has been to grant asylum to victims of domestic abuse.  In this case, both the Immigration Judge and the attorney for the Department with Homeland Security agreed with us that the woman was part of a particular social group defined as “Honduran women who are unable to leave their domestic relationship.”  Indeed, the DHS attorney did not oppose the asylum application, allowing the Immigration Court proceedings to run smoothly.  The woman was not required to recount her emotional tale of abuse in court, but was asked only to affirm the truthfulness of her asylum application under oath.  The DHS attorney also asked questions of the woman to make sure that no statutory bars to asylum, such as criminal and terrorist activities, applied in her case.

Having been granted asylum the woman may now live and work in the United States legally.  In one year, she may apply for permanent residency status, which could eventually lead to U.S. citizenship.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

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