Monday, July 20, 2009

Obama Opens Asylum for Some Battered Women

The Obama administration has opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic violence and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States.

The action reverses a Bush administration stance in a protracted and passionate legal battle over the possibilities for battered women to become refugees.

In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.

The administration laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico who requested asylum, saying she feared she would be murdered by her common-law husband there. According to court documents filed in San Francisco, the man repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her captive, stole from her and at one point tried to burn her alive when he learned she was pregnant.

The government has marked a clear, although narrow, pathway for battered women seeking asylum, lawyers said, after 13 years of tangled court arguments, including resistance from the Bush administration to recognize any of those claims.

Moving cautiously, the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately recommend asylum for the Mexican woman, who is identified in the court papers only by her initials as L.R. But the department, in the unusual submission written by senior government lawyers, concluded in plain terms that “it is possible” that the Mexican woman “and other applicants who have experienced domestic violence could qualify for asylum.”

As recently as last year, Bush administration lawyers had argued in the same case that in spite of her husband’s brutality, L.R. and other battered women could not meet the standards of American asylum law.

“This really opens the door to the protection of women who have suffered these kinds of violations,” said Karen Musalo, a professor who is director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Professor Musalo has represented other abused women seeking asylum and recently took up the case of L.R.
Read the entire New York Times article.

We applaud the Obama administration for recognizing the dangers of domestic violence and offering our country's protection to survivors, though it is ironic that one of the requirements for potential asylees is proof that domestic violence is widely tolerated in their country. We challenge an appeals court to find a country where domestic violence is not widely tolerated, including this one.

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