Are women a social group? That’s the issue at hand in the immigration asylum case of Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, a Guatemalan woman who illegally entered the United States in 1991. She requested asylum on the grounds that she’s a member of a particular social group, consisting of women between the ages of 14 and 40, and would be persecuted on those grounds if she returned home. To back up her case, she pointed to the fact that from 2001 to 2006, more than 1,900 Guatemalan women and girls were killed, and most of those cases involved sexual violence and “exceptional cruelty.” But the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) said “Guatemalan women” don’t constitute a group because it’s just too large. Now an appellate court is throwing the decision back to the BIA, saying it cannot reject a group for asylum consideration just because it’s too large. Skeptics say the decision will likely stand—gender still won’t be considered grounds for asylum seekers—but is this an opportunity to reconsider asylum law in the U.S. and what options are available for women like Perdomo? Is the system too easy to game?
Angelo Paparelli, immigration attorney with Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies