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Can victims of abuse be granted asylum in the U.S.?

Under United States immigration law, foreign nationals can be granted asylum in the country after escaping persecution in their own countries based on one of five protected statuses: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. However, the rules governing asylum are very complex and it is not always easy to determine if one qualifies for asylum, even if the person has been treated very poorly in his or her own country.

In an example of this, it is unclear under U.S. immigration law whether victims of severe abuse can be granted asylum and protected from being deported back to their home countries. Immigration attorneys as well as the Obama Administration favor this interpretation of the asylum rules, and four years ago, the Department of Homeland Security listed domestic violence "a possible basis for asylum in the United States.''

Currently, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which reviews decisions in deportation cases, is considering the issue in a deportation case involving a Honduran woman who entered the country illegally in effort to flee an abuser. Currently, there is no written ruling that includes domestic abuse as legal justification for granting a woman asylum in the United States.

However, it appears that the BIA is prepared to rule in the Honduran woman's case that victims of domestic abuse can qualify for asylum under U.S. immigration law. One sign of this came when the BIA requested that the American Immigration Lawyers Association file an amicus brief supporting the domestic abuse justification.

If the BIA establishes domestic abuse as grounds for asylum, it would be a precedent-setting decision. The ruling would define domestic violence as related to gender, which would qualify victims under the protected status of social group for asylum purposes. It could potentially open the door to many victims of abuse who are currently facing deportation.

Source: Minn Post, "Should battered women be given asylum in the U.S.?" Cynthia Boyd, March 1, 2013

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