Protections for Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence in Dire Jeopardy

Domestic violence is a global crisis. It is estimated that about 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Some studies find up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner.[1] It is estimated that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than six percent of men killed in the same year.[2]

Domestic Violence No Longer Valid Reason to Seek Asylum

Historically, survivors of domestic violence fleeing countries where the government is unable or unwilling to protect them could seek asylum in the United States. Generally, asylum seekers may claim that they suffered persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or their particular social group, broadly considered to include people who share a common characteristic that endangers them and whose governments will not protect them. Some groups who have qualified include relatives of dissidents, L.G.B.T.Q. people, victims of domestic violence and people fleeing violent gangs.

In re Matter of A-B- was one of the cases in which a woman fled El Salvador due to domestic violence. Although the Board of Immigration Appeals found that Ms. A-B- had successfully demonstrated her claim for asylum, on June 11, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overruled this decision. Sessions severely limited an asylum seeker’s ability to claim asylum for crimes based on “private actors.” The ruling makes it all but impossible for survivors of domestic abuse to claim asylum.[3]

In a case brought by an attorney with ADZ Law, “Ana”[4] fled Honduras due to the physical and sexual violence inflicted at the hands of her intimate partner. This man murdered her new boyfriend, raped her repeatedly, isolated her in a guarded apartment, beat her, and burned her with cigarettes. After a daring escape, Ana fled to the United States and sought asylum in the summer of 2015. Due to delays, her case has languished in the immigration court. Now, she may have no chance of being granted asylum, and is more likely to be deported.

Victims of Crime Now Face Deportation

Further eroding protections for victims of these crimes, USCIS recently released policy memos indicating that survivors with denied victim-related cases will now be referred for deportation proceedings; something that did not happen in the past.[5] This is a change from years of policy and practice which will apply to those applicants with denied VAWA, U-Visas, T-Visas, Special Immigrant Visas, and asylum applications. In sum, these new rules will prohibit many survivors of domestic violence from seeking safety in the United States and will make those with denied applications more likely to be deported.  For years we have counseled immigrant victims of sexual assault and domestic violence that it safe for them to report their abuse to law enforcement and to assist in the prosecution of their abusers. The current USCIS policy strips these victims of protection and, in fact, puts them at risk when they seek help.

ADZ Law, LLP continues to fight for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the face of inhumane changes to immigration law.

[1] World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, p.2. For individual country information, see The World’s Women 2015, Trends and Statistics, Chapter 6, Violence against Women, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015 and UN Women Global Database on Violence against Women.
[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2014). Global Study on Homicide 2013, p. 14.
[3] See In re Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec 316 (A.G. 2018)
[4] Names have been changed to protect the identity of the clients.
[5] See USCIS Policy Memorandum: Updated Guidance for Referral of Cases and Issuances of Notices to Appear (NTA’s) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Deportable Aliens, June 28, 2018