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Ruling grants first-ever asylum on grounds of domestic violence




Jodie Rivas, 23, cooks a meal at home in The Madrigales sector in Masaya, on March 6, 2013. Rivas suffered physical and psychological abuse from her husband, who in 2012 attempted to murder her stabbing her seven times. In Nicaragua in 2012 85 women were murdered and there were over 32,000 complaints of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Jodie Rivas, 23, cooks a meal at home in The Madrigales sector in Masaya, on March 6, 2013. Rivas suffered physical and psychological abuse from her husband, who in 2012 attempted to murder her stabbing her seven times. In Nicaragua in 2012 85 women were murdered and there were over 32,000 complaints of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
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The nation's highest immigration court has ruled in favor of granting political asylum to a Guatemalan woman seeking refuge from her abusive husband - and a government that failed to protect her.

The recent decision rests on a long-debated concept that asylum seekers legitimately can fear persecution based on their “membership in a particular social group” - and that abuse victims belong to a social group.

Advocates also argue that the law allows victims to seek refuge not just from a country that is persecuting them, but also from  groups or individuals the government is unable or unwilling to control. Ms. Aminta Cifuentes fled from Guatemala in 2005 after she “suffered repugnant abuse by her husband" - including weekly beatings, a broke, nose, rape, injuries from burning paint thinner, and stalking. The local police would not get involved in the domestic abuse case.

The case seems to be precedent setting. Moreover, the court made the rare decision to issue a written ruling to give guidance to other adjudicators. Analysts say its application will be limited to women from Guatemala.

Critics say a plethora of asylum applications are fraudulent and this will inspire more bogus claims. They also argue it will flood the system, preventing bona fide victims of political persecution from gaining refugee status.

Are victims of domestic abuse similar to other victims who seek asylum in the U.S.? Could the protection be extended to other countries and other social groups?

Guests:

Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies

Blaine Bookey, Associate Director and Staff Attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies; she is also co-counsel on the first test case since the highest immigration court in the United States issued a ruling recognizing domestic violence as a basis for granting asylum.