The US Board of Immigration Appeals: Battered Women could be Considered Victims of Persecution and Hence Entitled to Asylum

On 26 August 2014, the US Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws in the United States ruled that women who are victims of severe domestic violence in their home countries can qualify as “refugees” under US law and be eligible for asylum.

The decision came after the Department of Homeland Security conceded that the Guatemalan asylum seeker had suffered persecution on account of a particular social group which comprised of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.”

In its decision, the Board took into account the societal expectations in the refugee’s home country about gender and subordination (“a culture of ‘machismo and family violence’”), as well as legal constraints regarding divorce and separation, and emphasized that the respondent had sought protection from her spouse’s abuse while the police would refuse to assist her because they would not interfere in a marital relationship.

The definition of “refugee” under US law (“well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”) is virtually identical to the definition under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (“well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”)