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A Step Forward: Survivors of Domestic Violence Now Eligible for Asylum in the US

With a recent court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico seeking asylum in the US, the Obama Administration has signaled a shift in immigration law to make it possible for women survivors of severe domestic and sexual abuse to seek and obtain asylum.

In a marked departure from the Bush Administration position, the new policy holds that battered women do meet the standard of membership in a "persecuted group." This change in categorization by the Obama Administration recognizes that domestic abuse is not simply a private or family matter. Rather, it represents a violation of women's human rights and merits consideration in asylum cases.

While this express change in policy creates possibilities for battered women, it remains to be seen whether the unidentified Mexican woman in the case in question will actually be granted asylum. The policy also maintains strict limitations in order for women to qualify. Women must be able to provide evidence of the severity of their abuse and of the lack of recourse in their own countries. In one specific exception, the shift in policy does not apply to women escaping genital mutilation.

MADRE welcomes this opening in US immigration law, calling for the full realization and implementation of this important policy shift. We emphasize that freedom of movement is a fundamental human right not only for asylum seekers, but for all, and that additional policy changes are needed to bring all of US immigration law into compliance with the full range of international human rights standards.

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Mary Jane Real is a member of the MADRE Network of Experts. She is a lawyer and women's human rights advocate from the Philippines, who has worked on issues of domestic violence.