Spousal Abuse May be New Grounds for Asylum

There was hopeful news in an October 2009 New York Times article that said the Obama administration has recommended political asylum for a Guatemalan woman, Rody Alvarado Peña, who suffered years of relentless abuse at the hands of her husband, a former soldier in Guatemala. According to the Times, this case signals the administration’s willingness to consider domestic abuse as a valid ground for granting an asylum claim. (See U.S. May Be Open to Asylum for Spouse Abuse, by Julia Preston, New York Times, 30 Oct 2009).

Less than ten percent of all U.S. immigrants are allowed to enter the United States as refugees or asylees, based on their well-founded fear of persecution, if they were to be returned to their respective home countries. Under the law, asylum can be granted to a person who has faced persecution as part of a “particular social group.” The new case shows that the Department of Homeland Security is now prepared to recognize domestic abuse victims as part of a “particular social group,” for purposes of establishing a well-founded fear of persecution.

This is an enormous victory for the rights of women, and for human rights generally. In too many places, spousal abuse is socially accepted and politically tolerated, even when it’s officially against the law or religious doctrine. In this culture of impunity, abusers can get away with years of violence and, all too often, get away with murder. Ms. Alvarado’s case opens a much-needed escape hatch, so abused women can flee both their tormentors and the society that condoned the abuse, to find safe haven in the United States.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.