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In 2005, a Guatemalan woman entered the United States illegally while fleeing from her husband. According to a news report in The Associated Press, she reported to local police in Guatemala that she was being abused, but was repeatedly told that they would not meddle with her marriage. The woman then reportedly fled the country illegally, entering the United States. In court, she argued that the lack of police response should qualify her for asylum in the United States.

On August 26, 2014, the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals agreed in part that spousal abuse could affect immigration claims. The appeals board concluded that she met at least one criterion for asylum by being a married Guatemalan woman who could not leave her marriage. Her case was sent back to an immigration judge for a final ruling. This means that victims of domestic violence, at least those in Guatemala, are now potentially considered a protected class of people who may seek refuge in the United States.

Before this case, many women who have sought asylum in the United States had their claims denied. This ruling could open the door for more victims of abuse, but seeking asylum will not become easier overnight. Those who apply for asylum will still have to show that they were persecuted in their country because of their nationality, race, religion, opinion or inclusion in a particular social group. They must also prove that their government is either responsible for their persecution or unwilling to stop it.

This particular case may have bearing on thousands of pending cases. Receiving asylum in the United States is not a possibility for many immigrants, but simply having a case pending can delay deportation. The Associated Press reports that there is a backlog of about 375,000 pending deportation cases that will take several years to go through. Therefore, immigrants who are able to prove that their case deserves review from a judge will have an opportunity to stay here for a number of years until their case is heard.

As of now, it looks like this case will only affect Guatemalan women seeking asylum, but it could result in a preferable outcome for women from other countries as well. If you or a loved one is seeking asylum, please contact an experienced Los Angeles immigration attorney who has recent experience fighting on behalf of victims of abuse, prejudice and discrimination.