A recent case has opened the door for victims of domestic violence abroad to qualify for asylum in the United States.

The Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals ruled for the first time on Tuesday that a victim of domestic violence fit a specific criterion for asylum: persecution for membership in a particular social group. In this case, the group is married Guatemalan women who cannot leave their relationships. The woman who brought the case fled her abusive husband in Guatemala. She frequently sought help from police in Guatemala, but they told her they would not interfere with her marriage. She argued that her experiences with abuse and the negligent police response should make her eligible for asylum. Guatemala is ranked third in the world for the murder of women.

Those seeking asylum must demonstrate that they will be persecuted in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The decision to include the woman’s experience as a criterion only affects Guatemalan women at the moment, but it opens the door for cases for people from other countries.

“The decision for this Guatemalan woman has clear implications for other Central American women, that’s for sure,” Benjamin Casper, the director of Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School, told the Associated Press. “This is the first binding decision . . . to recognize this social group of women.”

The woman has not won asylum yet, but it is expected that she ultimately will. The Homeland Security Department did not contest the case, and an immigration judge must now give a final ruling.

Media Resources: Associated Press 8/27/14; Voice of America 8/27/14

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