Domestic Violence

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Groundbreaking Ruling Recognizes Domestic Violence as Basis for Asylum

After 15 years of remaining silent on the issue, on August 26, 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals (the nation's highest immigration tribunal) issued a precedential decision, Matter of A-R-C-G-, recognizing domestic violence as a basis for asylum, with the potential to affect immigrant women across the country. As CGRS has done with so many asylum cases based on domestic violence, we assisted the attorney in this case (Roy Petty) with briefing and strategy, and we filed an amicus brief in support of the client.

CGRS has pioneered this area of the law in two internationally known cases – starting with the case of Rody Alvarado, Matter of R-A-, and then in Matter of L-R-. CGRS Director Karen Musalo, working with her colleagues at CGRS, represented both women. The grants in those cases were important victories, signaling that these cases were viable, but they did not set precedent. Now, for the first time with A-R-C-G-, we have binding precedent to support domestic violence survivors who seek protection in the United States.

In this case, the government of Guatemala failed to intervene when Ms. C-G-’s husband broke her nose, repeatedly beat and raped her and burned her with paint thinner. Governments have the obligation to protect the human rights and physical integrity of all of their citizens, without discrimination. When a government does not take violence against women seriously, and allows brutal violence to be committed with impunity, asylum is the appropriate remedy. We are glad that the Board of Immigration Appeals finally acknowledged this principle.

The new decision in Matter of A-R-C-G- alters the landscape considerably, especially for immigrant women who are domestic violence survivors. CGRS and other advocates working with women and their children in detention centers estimate that half of the detainees have asylum claims based on domestic violence, and CGRS is providing much-needed litigation support and resources (expert declarations, country conditions memoranda) to lawyers representing these women. The first three cases out of the family detention center near Artesia, New Mexico, resulted in grants of asylum as a direct result of CGRS’s support, and as of its closing, the vast majority of the asylum seekers with domestic violence claims were granted asylum. It is imperative that we work now to expand the reach of A-R-C-G- to make sure that this decision leads to refuge for more women.

To learn more, read our press release here.

CGRS Publications

Selected cases CGRS has been involved in:

  • Matter of R-A- (2009): After a 13-year legal battle, a San Francisco immigration judge finally granted asylum in December 2009 to Rody Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who fled more than a decade of heinous abuse. The Department of Homeland Security filed a brief in the case arguing that she had established eligibility.  CGRS Director Karen Musalo coordinated and co-authored an amicus brief for the BIA in 1996, and became sole counsel in the case in 1999. 
  • Matter of L-R- (2010): A Mexican woman’s asylum case based on severe domestic violence led to a 2009 Department of Homeland Security brief stating that domestic violence may be considered grounds for asylum. A San Francisco immigration judge granted asylum to Ms. L-R- in 2010. CGRS served as co-counsel with Simona Agnolucci in this case.
  • Matter of D-K- (2002): A woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who feared extreme domestic abuse was initially denied asylum by an IJ and the BIA, but the IJ subsequently granted her protection from deportation under the Convention Against Torture in 2000. She was granted asylum in 2002 by the BIA after the government withdrew its opposition. CGRS coordinated an amicus brief signed by a group of gender asylum advocates.
  • YVZ v. Holder (2013): From the day he moved in to her house, a Peruvian gang member targeted Ms. YVZ.  He believed she was “his” and he refused to let her be with anyone else, attempting to rape her and beating her in public. The Board of Immigration Appeals and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals considered the abuse to be merely “personal,” not recognizing the gender-motivated nature of the harm. CGRS filed an amici brief, joined by the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and the National Immigrant Justice Center, accepted by the Third Circuit arguing that the abuse in the case should be viewed through the domestic violence lens that considers gender as a key motivating factor and asking the Court to reconsider its decision. The Court declined to reconsider its opinion, but importantly the Third Circuit's decision is unpublished and thus not precedential for future cases. 
  • Matter of K-C- (pending): A Guatemalan woman who had been brutalized for years by her common law husband was granted asylum by an immigration judge, but the Department of Homeland Security appealed to the BIA, which is currently hearing her claim. CGRS worked intensively with Ms. K-C-’s attorney and was one of several expert organizations submitting amicus briefs in this potentially precedent-setting case.