Awareness, Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 07/16/2009

the U.S. as an asylum for battered women

The Obama administration recently created a new policy that allows foreign women who are the victims of severe domestic violence to receive asylum in the United States.

The policy outlines that to receive asylum, women must show that they are:

“treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property…and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.”

One such moving story is that of L.R. (identity protected), a Mexican woman who, according to San Francisco court documents, had an abusive partner who:

“made her live with him, and forced her to have sex with him by putting a gun or a machete to her head, by breaking her nose and threatening to kill the small children of her sister. Once when she became pregnant, she said, she barely escaped alive after he had poured kerosene on the bed where she was sleeping and ignited it. He stole the salary she earned as a teacher and alter sold hre teacher’s license.” 

Local police dismissed her reports as a “private matter.” A local judge from whom she sought help tried to seduce her. An immigration  judge under the Bush administration denied her asylum claim in 2006, as did Bush administration lawyers, claiming that she did not meet the standards of American asylum law.

I think that this policy is an incredibly positive step in that the Obama administration is clearly recognizing the seriousness of domestic violence, and how it is a problem that persists globally. I’m glad that more victims of domestic violence will have access to this kind of asylum.

However, I worry about this policy in the way women have to prove that they tried to seek protection from local institutions or by moving within their country before exploring this option. Often in abusive relationships, especially in ones as severe as these cases, it is almost impossible for the victim to leave the abuser, for physical and mental/emotional reasons.

Obviously I understand why this is part of the policy — if women can find help in their own countries it’s preferable to leaving. I’m just not sure how often abused women are going to be able to meet these standards.

The other downside -women fleeing gential mutilation are not granted asylum under this policy.

Altogether, I think this is a positive policy, a good move on the part of the Obama administration. But it needs to be said that there are still many issues surrounding domestic violence that need to be addressed, and are not addressed in this policy.

Via: New York Times

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  • Lynn @ at 3:56 pm, July 16th, 2009

    Admittedly, Obama’s administration has done more for victims of domestic violence with this one policy then Bush did in his entire eight years in office, but it’s still not enough. All we can hope for is that this sparks discussion about the issue of domestic abuse both here and in other parts of the world, and that it encourages further action one a state level to help victims.

  • Julie Z @ at 5:25 pm, July 16th, 2009

    also, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article on domestic violence today:

  • Danielle @ at 6:37 pm, July 16th, 2009

    Do you know what will happen to the women when they get into the US? I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about how the asylum process works.

    But yes- it’s a huge step forward, but there’s still a long way to go.

  • K @ at 8:05 pm, July 27th, 2009

    There’s a reason why genital mutilation and female circumcision isn’t mentioned, people fleeing such treatment can already come to the U.S. for asylum.

  • Julie Z @ at 9:05 pm, July 27th, 2009

    “While gender-based asylum law has developed in many positive ways over the last decade, other decisions seem to signal that the field has begun to regress rather than gain ground. Courts have issued decisions that deny protection to applicants who have fled forced marriage, suffered female genital mutilation, feared female genital mutilation for their daughters, and endured years of life-threatening domestic violence.”

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