SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — So many women are murdered with impunity every year in Guatemala that a federal appeals court said Monday that they should be considered for political asylum, opening the possibility of U.S. citizenship to similarly situated women in other countries.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the deportation orders of two immigration courts that such a claim applies too broadly. The San Francisco-based court ordered the immigration judges in the U.S. Department of Justice to reconsider granting asylum to Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, an illegal immigrant in her mid-30s who settled in Reno, Nev.
Most important, the court ordered the Board of Immigration to determine whether all Guatemalan women can qualify — a decision that could open the door to similar claims from other countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and others with history of widespread gender abuse.
Such a determination would continue an expansion of asylum eligibility beyond the traditional claims of political and religious oppression. Successful asylum applicants have to show they were persecuted because of religion, political beliefs, race, nationality or membership in a particular social group.
Courts in recent years have granted asylum to an increasing number of people claiming persecution of a social group: women fearing genital mutilation, victims of domestic violence and other gender-based claims.
But courts have never opened the possibility of asylum to such a large social group as all the women of Guatemala, which has a population of 13.5 million.
More than 3,800 Guatemalan women have been murdered since 2000 and fewer than 2 percent of the crimes have been solved, according to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California, San Francisco's law school.
"This is not a phenomena limited to Guatemala," said Karen Musalo, head of the center.
This is the first such case to reach this high in the United States' court system, which has grappled with determining gender-based claims for asylum, she said.
The timeline for resolving the issue is unclear because the courts aren't under any deadlines to act....
The Department of Justice didn't return a telephone call.