Justice Dept. Opens New Asylum Gate For Guatemalans

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

The Department of Justice’s board of immigration appeals has decided to let Guatemalan women win asylum in the United States if they claim to be victims of domestic violence.

The decision creates a huge new incentive for Guatemalan women to cross the U.S. border, because if their asylum claim is accepted, their children get U.S. citizenship, plus the use of federal health, education and retirement programs, regardless of their initial education and work skills.

The new decision also means that many of the Guatemalan women who have already crossed the border this year have a new claim for asylum.

“Under this breaking decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals, many [migrant] women [detained at the detention center] Artesia may be eligible for asylum,” said a Aug. 26 tweet from Ben Winograd, a lawyer who is paid to help foreigners win residency and citizenship.

“This (long overdue) BIA decision should make many [foreign] victims of domestic violence eligible for asylum,” said Winograd, a liberal advocate who is based in Alexandria, Va.

The decision was announced in an Aug. 26 decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals at President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice.

The board’s decision likely will accelerate the rapid growth in asylum awards to foreigners. For example, the number of foreigners who successfully filed asylum claims in the United States almost tripled from 2012 to 2013, up to 30,393. (RELATED: Leaked Data Shows 10-Fold Increase In Obama’s Asylum Approvals)

Coyotes and migrants in Central America are exploiting the administration’s lax policies. From Oct. 1 to July 31, 55,420 adults and children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras crossed the border to file asylum claims following the White House’s 2010 decisions to relax enforcement. Another 57,525 “unaccompanied alien minors” were brought by coyotes to the U.S. border, in the expectation that federal agencies will deliver the minors to their parents and relatives already living in the United States.

Few of those who have crossed the border have been sent home.

Since 2010, the administration has relaxed immigration enforcement even though the annual supply of new labor — 4 million Americans youths, roughly 600,000 working-age immigrants and roughly 800,000 foreign guest-workers — far exceeds companies’ demand for extra labor. In response, household wages have dropped since 2010, and nearly all of the income gains since 2010 have gone to the wealthiest investors. 

Under long-standing congressional laws and court precedents, people can seek asylum by showing evidence that they are persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality or political opinions or membership in a qualified social group. The “social group” is something of a catch-all category, and already includes married women from El Salvador, thousands of whom have also streamed across the border this year.

“Depending on the facts and evidence in an individual case, ‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship’ can constitute a cognizable particular social group that forms the basis of a claim for asylum or withholding of removal,” said the immigration board’s decision.

“We find that the lead respondent, a victim of domestic violence in her native country, is a member of a particular social group composed of ‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship,’” it said.

The woman and her three children entered the country in 2005. She was slated for deportation in 2009, and then appealed to the board.

Since 2009, the Department of Homeland Security quietly reversed a prior policy that said victims of domestic violence don’t count as a “social group” for immigration purposes.

Under the DHS’s new policy, DHS officials told the immigration court that “the respondent established that she suffered past harm rising to the level of persecution and that the persecution was on account of a particular social group comprised of ‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationships,’” according to the appeals board.

The immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice, not the judiciary.

The Aug. 26 decision is a victory for the progressive groups now trying to help many foreigners become citizens. The domestic-violence decision likely will be used as a precedent in future immigration cases that will be bought on behalf of other women in South American, African and Asia.

Outside the United States, hundreds of millions of women suffer from domestic violence, according to an advocacy report by the United Nations’ World Health Organization. “Overall, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence,” said the 2013 report, which is titled “Global and regional estimates of violence against women.”

“There is a clear need to scale up efforts across a range of sectors, both to prevent violence from happening in the first place and to provide necessary services for women experiencing violence,” the U.N. report said.

Follow Neil on Twitter