The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) recently made a landmark decision that would grant asylum to women and children who have been victims of domestic violence. The decision does so because it says that these women and children would be “members of a particular social group.” Matter of A-R-C-G-, the case which brought about this decision, comes during a time when many Central American women and children flee to the Southwest Border due to domestic violence at home.
Asylum is a protection granted to aliens who have a legitimate fear about returning to their home country and hopes they can find refuge in the United States. To learn more about asylum and how it can be granted or extended, read more here.
The issue here has always rested in the definition of “membership of a particular social group.” For many years, judges have been very restrictive on how they define these social groups, and the BIA and other immigration groups have not provided a clear precedent or guidance on the issue. Despite that, many lawyers have won cases that defined gender or gender-related groups are particular social groups deserving of asylum, but there have been inconsistencies in rulings relating to domestic violence.
Through this recent decision, the BIA has given a great deal of guidance to clear up the issue. In their decision, they stated that that “‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship’ can constitute a…particular social group that forms the basis of a claim for asylum.” They did stress, however, that each case needs to be looked at on an individual basis, and that evidence to be reviewed should include “documented country conditions.” What this means, for the case of Guatemalan married women, is she must show that the government “was unwilling or unable to control the ‘private’ actor.” According to a 2014 Human Rights Report, Guatemala has a “chronic problem” of violence against women and girls, yet few perpetrators are ever arrested or face trial. The evidence even suggests that the police rarely respond to domestic violence calls.
For an estimated 300 women currently awaiting for their BIA appeals, this is great news. It’s a big step forward, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long fight ahead. The courts approved just under 1,000 asylum cases in 2013, and the BIA has a backlog of over 22,000 cases. However, this ruling helps and brings attention to the many who flee from domestic violence and their hopes of finding refuge.