Court Rules Victims of Domestic Abuse Can Seek Asylum in US

In a decision by the highest immigration court in the U.S., it was decided that female victims of severe domestic abuse in their home countries will be eligible to seek asylum in America.

The decision was made on Tuesday after the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that Aminta Cifuentes, a battered wife from Guatemala, would be allowed to seek asylum in the United States. The battle had been ongoing since 2005, when Cifuentes fled Guatemala and her abusive husband in search of asylum in the U.S. Her husband had beat her, raped her, and thrown paint thinner at her. Officials in Guatemala had not responded to her pleas to arrest her husband, so she fled across the border.

The New York Times reports that the decision to allow Cifuentes asylum came after a longstanding position held by the government was changed by the Obama administration, claiming Cifuentes as a part of a persecuted group. Battered women didn't factor under refugee law, as their cases were all perceived to be individual incidents.

Via the New York Times:

Since 1995, when federal officials first tried to set guidelines for the immigration courts on whether domestic abuse victims could be considered for asylum, the issue has been reviewed by four attorneys general, vigorously debated by advocates and repeatedly examined by the courts. With its published decision, unusual in the immigration courts, the appeals board set a clear precedent for judges.

Women's rights advocates have been arguing for years that under the legal definition of "refugee," domestic violence counts as a form of persecution. Residents of other countries can seek asylum in the U.S. if they have a "well-founded fear of persecution' based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or 'membership in a particular social group,'" the New York Times reports.

Though the law currently will only apply to women from Guatemala, it is expected that women from any country who are victims of domestic abuse will now be treated as refugees from persecution and will be eligible to seek asylum. The likelihood of getting approved, however, is still slim.

According to the report in the Times, last year, immigration courts approved only 9,933 asylum cases throughout the country.

[Image via Getty]