GUATEMALA: Court ruling affects Guatemalan women seeking asylum in U.S.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
North America
Central America
United States of America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

An appeals court ruling has raised the possibility that Guatemalan women will be able to seek asylum in the United States because of the high rates of femicide in that country.

A Guatemalan woman seeking asylum based on her belief that she would not be safe in her native country will have her case reviewed, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, a native of Guatemala who entered the United States illegally as a teenager to join her mother in 1991, was facing deporation in 2003.

She requested asylum "because she feared persecution as a member of a particular social group consisting of women between the ages of fourteen and forty," according to the court document. In particular, Perdomo argued that women in Guatemala "were murdered at a high rate with impunity."

An immigration judge denied her claim, and the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the decision.

Monday's ruling remands the case to the BIA for further proceedings.

Perdomo, who lives in Reno, Nevada, and works as a Medicaid account executive at a medical facility there, is not assured asylum, but the decision gives her and countless other Guatemalan women the possibility of remaining in the United States.

A key issue in the case is whether Guatemalan women are too broad of a group to be considered a protected "particular social group" eligible for asylum. That's what the BIA decided when it upheld the immigration judge's ruling, calling it "merely a demographic division ... rather than a particular social group."

The three-judge panel at the appeals court, however, found that the decision was "inconsistent with its own precedent and this court's case law."

It is important to note that the appeals court stopped short of saying Perdomo deserved asylum, only saying that she was eligible for it, Kevin Johnson, Dean of the University of California-Davis Law School, told CNN.

Proving that Perdomo will face persecution if she is returned to Guatemala and that the country doesn't protect its young women will be hard to prove, he said. Any other Guatemalan women hoping to take advantage of this week's ruling will have to do the same.

"I don't think there's going to be a flood of Guatemalan women applying for asylum tomorrow," Johnson said. "This is part of a trend among U.S. courts to ensure women are afforded protection under asylum laws."

According to Amnesty International, between 2001 and 2006, more than 1,900 Guatemalan women and girls were killed. Many of those killings involved sexual violence and "exceptional cruelty," the organization said.