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Obama Allows Asylum for Battered Women

New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram Posted: Jul 18, 2009

Editor's Note: Foreign battered women who want to start a new life in the United States have finally a chance to do that through asylum, thanks to the Obama administration revising asylum laws, reports NAM health editor Viji Sundaram.

Calling it one of the best options the Obama administration has made available to foreign battered women, womens advocacy groups in the United States lauded the administration for making it possible for those women to begin a new life in this country.

Earlier this week, the administration said that if women in foreign countries could show, in addition to meeting other strict conditions to asylum, that they had been treated by their abuser as little more than chattel, and that their home countries wink at such behavior, then the women could seek to make the United States their permanent home.

This restoration of gender-based asylum should be celebrated, said Purvi Shah, executive director of the 20-year-old New York-based support group for South Asian abused women, Sakhi. We all deserve to live free of abuse, and immigration status should not be a barrier to that vision of a healthy life.

Its a very positive policy change, asserted Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of Californias Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Its going to benefit many women.

The administrations position stemmed from a case filed in an immigration appeals court by a Mexican woman who said she would likely be murdered by her common law husband in Mexico if she were sent back to her homeland. In court documents, the woman claimed she had been repeatedly raped at gunpoint by her husband, and threatened to be burnt alive when he found out that she was pregnant.

Several other such claims by other battered women seeking asylum have been tied up in the U.S. courts in the last dozen years. The Bush administration did not want to recognize those claims, the first of which was filed in 1996 by a Guatemalan woman. After many years of litigation, an immigration court declared that she was not a part of any persecuted group under U.S. law.

Three years ago, Congress gave some relief to undocumented abused women in the form of the so-called U-visa, which allowed them a temporary work permit, which could eventually lead to a green card.

But last weeks move by the Obama administration would allow abused women to file for legal residency status through asylum.

Asylum gives you permanent status without having to go through any other steps, said Sheela Murthy, an immigration lawyer in Baltimore, Md., who also advocates for women.

Most requests for asylum currently filed in the United States are based on claims by applicants that they fear persecution if they are sent back to their homeland because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or any particular party they may belong to. Murthy said nearly 80 percent of those applicants are denied asylum for lack of providing adequate evidence.

Asylum seekers generally arrive in the United States on fake travel documents. Upon arrival at the airport, they ask for asylum.

Getting asylum is not going to be a slam dunk for abused women, Murthy reiterated, noting that they have to meet the most stringent of requirements.

Even so, Atashi Chakravarty, executive director of the Berkeley-based help line for South Asian battered women, said she believes that scores of people from the Indian sub-continent will benefit from the new policy change.

We have clients who are taken to India by their abusive spouses and abandoned there, only to face more physical and emotional abuse from their in-laws, Chakravarty said.

Shah and other women's advocates say there is no danger of the new policy opening the floodgates of applications from women who claim they were battered.

Anyone who believes such a thing has never filed for asylum, said Shah, noting: The fact that this route exists again doesnt negate the need for significant evidence of abuse and the need to meet very rigorous parameters to qualify for gender-based asylum.

This is why other strategies for immigration relief must still exist so that any immigrant survivor understands she can be safe, and that in the United States, violence against women is a crime which will not be condoned.

Related Articles:

Economic Fuels Up Tick in Domestic Violence

Immigration Reform under Obama Likely to be Piecemeal

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