The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has 45 days to consider a proposed policy change that would expand political asylum to allow victims of domestic violence to file claims. The proposal, praised by immigrant advocacy groups and women’s rights groups, treats victims of domestic violence as members of a particular persecuted class, and would enable battered women to escape the physical and emotional danger that is often treated by certain governments as merely a “private” matter. Applicants for asylum must show that they cannot return home because of persecution on the basis of religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group. Last year, more than 1,000 of the 42,000 asylum claims were from women who argued that their sex qualified as a persecuted social class. The policy could also help recent immigrants to the U.S. According to the Washington Post, as many as 300 immigrants are deported each year when convicted of domestic crimes; their battered spouses are deported along with them. The proposed policy would allow such women to apply for asylum, while their batterers are deported to their native countries.
While critics of the proposal argue that it is too loose an interpretation of the concept of asylum and crosses into the “personal” realm, INS spokesman Bill Strassberger argues that, although domestic violence occurs in a personal relationship, “it is still persecution.” Due to recent changes in asylum policy, individuals can site similar social categories to qualify for asylum; for example, gays and lesbians can submit that their homosexuality is the basis of persecution in their native countries that justifies their receiving asylum. These expansions did not appreciably increase asylum applications to the United States.