Significant Victory

Justice Center Celebrates a Significant Victory in Immigration Court

By Kevin Anthony Stoda   

Related Topic(s): Administration; America; Court Decision; Culture; Empowerment;Government; Immigration; Islam; Justice; Marriage;

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The normalcy of abuse of women is reflected throughout some societies. It manifests on multiple levels - in the home at the hands of an abuser, in society through social attitudes accepting violence against women, and in the government by the unresponsive and ineffective legal system that is unable or unwilling to protect women. The Obama administration's action has been instrumental in bringing justice to such cases.

 

MAS Immigrant Justice Center Celebrates a Significant Victory in Immigration Court

 

In 2009, the Obama administration moved to grant political asylum to foreign women who suffer severe physical or sexual abuse from which they are unable to escape because it is part of the culture of their own countries. The move was a significant shift in policy that opened the way for physically and sexually abused women to seek the same protection that those fleeing female genital mutilation are already offered.

Karen Musalo, a lawyer and director of the Centre for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California, who represents women involved in a similar asylum case, stated that "these are not easy cases to prove." Applicants must prove that the violence is pervasive and that there is a societal perception that this is acceptable. Then, she has to prove that the government is unable or unwilling to protect her, and on top of that she has to show that there is nowhere in her country where she can be safe from her abusers.

Following the Obama administration ruling, Khalilah Sabra, MAS Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director, filed for political asylum for the young woman identified only as 27-year-old NA, as potentially having grounds to apply for political asylum because she feared she would be subjected to what is called an "honor killing. MAS Immigrant Justice Center submitted briefs and extensive evidence to verify the applicant's claim. It was denied asylum at the first tier of decision-making, DHS interview. The judge in the Immigration Court amended the decision at the conclusion of the hearing.

"Although the protection of women whose human rights are violated should not be a controversial proposition, it has been and continues to be, and women have had to struggle for the recognition that women's rights are human rights. The judge obviously agreed and our client can now look forward to a future where she is not in fear of losing her life." When the client reported her fear to the police in her country, they dismissed her claims as a "private matter."

For many years, the US government said battered women did not qualify because they could not show persecution on specific grounds such as race or political opinion. That position was eroded in 1996 in a key ruling over female mutilation.

Until then the courts held that the women were victims of cultural oppression and that was not grounds for asylum because they were not members of a persecuted group under US law. 'The harm that women suffer is often a harm that is a cultural norm or accepted within a culture. Courts have previously held the position that this can't be persecution as required by refugee law because it's a cultural requirement," said Sabra. "Now the board of immigration says that it doesn't matter that it's a cultural rite - if it's a violation of human rights and objectively an egregious harm, it's persecution. The cases send a message loud and clear that domestic violence can be the basis for a successful claim to asylum. This kind of case stands for the broader principle that women who suffer a range of violations of their fundamental human rights - from female genital cutting (FGC) to forced marriage or sexual slavery - are also entitled to protection as refugees.

Violence against women has become "normalized" in several countries and is broadly accepted despite the efforts of human rights and women's groups to overcome this widespread acquiescence. The normalcy of abuse of women is reflected throughout some societies. It manifests on multiple levels - in the home at the hands of an abuser, in society through social attitudes accepting violence against women, and in the government by the unresponsive and ineffective legal system that is unable or unwilling to protect women. The Obama administration's action has been instrumental in bringing justice to such cases.

Muslim American Society is the first Islamic faith based institution to be be recognized by the BIA as an organization legally recognized to provide immigration legal services. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. MASIJC Accredited representatives assist aliens in immigration proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review's immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals (Board), or before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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