Immigration is a contentious issue, as the fine minds who passed SB 1070 in Arizona last spring surely know. What those responsible for oppressive legislation fail to consider is why some immigrants have to leave their homes: in the case of many women, it may be their own family members, or the culture of violence towards women in their country. We all have relatives we’d like never to see again. Maybe it’s the uncle who’s getting a little too involved in local politics. Tea Party politics, specifically. Perhaps it’s the cousin with the mullet whose pick-up truck sports the bumper sticker “Keep Honking: I’m Busy Reloading.” Well, this is a little more serious.
Consider the case of a Guatemalan woman who argued in her asylum plea that her life would be imperiled should she be forced to return to her native country due to the high rate of femicide. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled she was eligible to have her case reviewed — it was ultimately sent back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine whether Guatemalan women constitute a “social group,” thus making them eligible for asylum.
And, although the immigration court and the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that “all Guatemalan women” or those aged fourteen to forty was too wide to constitute a social group, the 9th Circuit judges disagreed, having already stated that Roma, gays and Somali women facing FGM made up social groups eligible for asylum.
President Obama has liberalized immigration laws affecting victims of physical and sexual violence, in a reversal from an earlier Bush administration stance (and really, what else can you expect from a Muslim Socialist who himself is a Kenyan immigrant)?
In addition to meeting other conditions for asylum, abuse victims must prove “…they are treated little better than property…and that 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 home.”
Consider the case of a Mexican woman, identified in court papers only as L.R., whose common-law husband raped her, stole from her and tried to burn her alive upon discovering she was pregnant. L.R., quite reasonably, fears being murdered by him if she were returned to Mexico.
In 2008, Dubya’s administration attorneys argued that L.R. and other victims of abuse did not meet the standards of American asylum law.
Under Obama, things are starting to turn around for battered women. “This really opens the door to the protection of women who have suffered these kinds of violations,” said Karen Musalo, professor and director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, who recently took on L.R’s case.
If those who passed the Arizona law can’t understand the desperation of women fleeing femicide, what will it take to make them understand the desperation behind immigration?