Guatemalan Women May Become Special Asylum Group

July 21, 2010 7:00 am 1 comment

Two women in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Two women in Panajachel, Guatemala.

NEW YORK — In a few weeks, female Guatemalan asylum seekers might know whether their applications hold better odds.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that a Guatemalan might be eligible for asylum because she’d be unsafe in her own country.

This volleys her case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals, where it will be decided whether Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, as a woman, belongs to a specially persecuted group in her home country.

“How long it’s going to take to get back to the Board of Immigration Appeals, I don’t know,” Perdomo’s lawyer, Alan D. Hutchison, told Latin American News Dispatch.

Hutchison said it could take weeks for the case to migrate to the Board.

Perdomo has been fighting deportation since 2003 and argues she would be targeted as a woman in Guatemala.

“She’s been here for the last 18 years,” Hutchison said, adding that she continues to work as a secretary and live her normal life while awaiting the decision.

Activists have long accused Guatemala of femicide. Since 2000, more than 3,800 women have been murdered in Guatemala, according to the Center for Gender and Refuge Studies at University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.

Perdomo, who lives in Reno, Nev., came to the United States in 1991, as a 16-year-old trying to join her mother.

If the Board of Immigration decides that Perdomo deserves asylum, it could open the door to other Guatemalan women who can prove that they’re legitimately afraid of being murdered if deported.

In Perdomo’s case, 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,” CNN reported.

The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with an immigration judge rejecting that argument.

However, the new ruling requires further review of her case by the Board.

Perdomo hadn’t specifically faced persecution in her home country, Hutchison told NPR, but she fled during the civil war and grew up “as an American.”

Not only are women murdered at a high rate, Hutchison said, but Guatemalans coming from the U.S. are at particular risk because “they’re recognized as American and considered rich.”

In the same news report, Mark Krikorian, from the Center for Immigration Studies, called the potential ruling “breathtakingly irresponsible.”

“What we’re talking about here is potentially granting asylum to someone simply because she’s a woman,” he said, later adding, “This opens the door, frankly, to very promiscuous use of asylum.”

The Center for Gender and Refuge Studies highlighted another case of a Guatemalan woman fleeing violence in her home country.

Rodi Alvarado applied for asylum in the United States (.pdf) after her husband, a former soldier who she married at 16, assaulted her for ten years. Several times, when she tried to leave, her husband tracked her down and brought her back, and Alvarado said she found no help in the Guatemalan courts or police.

She applied in 1996 after fleeing to the U.S., winning asylum after an immigration judge ruled that she had suffered persecution in Guatemala.

Other Guatemalans also deserve special status, according to members of House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Last week, some members wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to grant temporary protected status to Guatemalans living in the United States.

After Tropical Storm Agatha and the country’s Pacaya Volcano erupting, floods and mudslides left 174 people dead and more than 100,000 homeless.

“Extending TPS to Guatemalans currently living in the United States would provide significant humanitarian benefits,” they wrote in the letter.

The politicians argued that citizens of both Honduras and El Salvador received temporary protected status, extended until 2012.

Image: Marlin Harms @ Flickr.

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