Political Asylum for Guatemalan Women?
The ongoing, high-profile, potentially revolutionary case of Lesly Yajayra Perdomo has thrust the topic of political asylum into the public eye. Perdomo came to America illegally in 1991 to live with her mother in Nevada. Deportation proceedings against her began in 2003, and she has been aggressively fighting them ever since. She argues that she should remain in the United States not only because she has been a productive member of society for the past 19 years, but also that she would be a possible target of violence or murder because of her age if she returns to her home country.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has denied her requests for asylum twice, so she appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration. In a surprising move, the Court ruled that the BIA must revisit her application. Specifically, the court requested the BIA determine if Perdomo's status as a 35-year-old woman is enough to prevent her deportation given human rights advocates' assertions that femicide is rampant in Guatemala.
What is Political Asylum?
Asylum is a long-standing tenet of law that grants resident status to a person who would face persecution for being a member of a particular "social group" if forced to return to his or her homeland. It is usually granted to people specifically targeted and/or threatened in their home country, including (but not limited to) political activists, battered spouses, victims of sexual exploitation and those fleeing an active war zone. Ms. Perdomo's asylum request is unique in that:
- She was never specifically persecuted while living in Guatemala
- Being a woman is typically considered a demographic designation, not a "social class"
Even though an estimated 4,000 women ages 14 to 40 have been killed in Guatemala since the year 2000, that number is still fairly low considering Guatemala's high rate of criminal violence (nearly 7,000 homicides occurred in the country in 2008 alone)
What Does This Ruling Mean?
For the time being, the Ninth Circuit's decision merely grants Perdomo the opportunity to argue her case to the BIA again. The ultimate decision in her particular case and the fate of other similarly situated Guatemalan women seeking asylum now or in the future is still up in the air.
Should you have a question about political asylum or other immigration-related matters, contact an experienced immigration law attorney in your area.