ARTESIA, N.M. — The nation’s top immigration court ruled last week that women who suffer severe domestic violence in their country may be eligible for asylum in the United States — and that decision is already affecting hearings here.
Attorneys at the makeshift detention center for Central American women and their children were successful twice this week in securing asylum for their clients.
On Thursday and Friday, judges heard two domestic violence asylum cases — one a 23-year-old mother of two from Honduras and the other a 36-year-old mother of four from El Salvador. They were the first hearings held at the facility since it opened in late June.
Last week, the Board of Immigration Appeals found in an unprecedented decision that a Guatemalan woman eligible for asylum as part of the “particular social group” category, in this case abused women from particular countries that are unwilling or unable to protect them. The historic decision resolved a nearly 20-year legal battle and offered guidance to courts across the nation.
The decision discussed only Guatemala, but lawyers and advocates say it can impact hundreds of pending cases — and slow the deportation of many of the Central American women who crossed the border with their children this year.
The decision could create a new stream of people seeking asylum, said Muzaffar Chishti with the D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.
“I doubt it will be an exodus, but in the short-term it may increase the numbers of people who were hesitant until now,” Chishti said.
But attorneys and policy experts say there’s no reason to expect a flood.
“Canada has been granting asylum on domestic violence cases for years and has not seen a big uptick,” said Blaine Bookey, associate director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, who assisted in the Artesia cases.
The number of women trying to cross the desert with their children jumped from about 12,000 last year to more than 66,000 this year. Many of them are fleeing entrenched poverty, gang and drug violence — some driven by rumors that the United States was giving families an opportunity to stay.