Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remanded a case to the BIA to “determine in the first instance whether women in Guatemala constitute a particular social group, and, if so, whether Perdomo [the alien seeking asylum] has demonstrated a fear of persecution ‘on account of’ her membership in such a group.” See Perdomo v. Holder, No. No. 06-71652 (9th Cir. July 12, 2010).
In that case, Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, a native and citizen of Guatemala, sought asylum based on her fear of persecution as a young woman in Guatemala. Specifically, Ms. Perdomo argued that women were murdered in Guatemala at a high rate with impunity. The IJ denied the application because she found that young women in Guatemala were not a cognizable social group. The BIA affirmed, finding that a social group consisting of “all women in Guatemala” is over-broad and “a mere demographic division of the population rather than a particular social group.” Ms. Perdomo entered the U.S. in 1991 when she was 15. In 2003, the government issued a Notice to Appear, and Ms. Perdomo conceded removability and applied for asylum.
The Ninth Circuit noted, “Whether females in a particular country, without any other defining characteristics, could constitute a protected social group remains an unresolved question for the BIA.” The Court further noted, “Our case law examining asylum claims based on membership in a particular social group continues to evolve.” The Court had previously defined “particular social group:”
A “particular social group” is one united by a voluntary association, including a former association, or by an innate characteristic that is so fundamental to the identities or consciences of its members that members either cannot or should not be required to change it.
The Court had also previously concluded that “females, or young girls of a particular clan, met our definition of a particular social group.” See Mohammed v. Gonzales, 400 F.3d 785, 798 (9th Cir. 2005). In Mohammed, the Ninth Circuit recognized that gender is an “innate characteristic” that is “fundamental to one’s identity.” Id. The Court found that the social group “Guatemalan women” was not necessarily overbroad: “To the extent we have rejected certain social groups as too broad, we have done so where there is no unifying relationship or characteristic to narrow the diverse and disconnected group.” Further, the Court “rejected the notion that a persecuted group may simply represent too large a portion of a population to allow its members to qualify for asylum.” Based on this precedential case law, the Court remanded the matter to the BIA to determine in the first instance whether “Guatemalan women” constitute a social group and, if so, whether Ms. Perdomo has demonstrated a fear of persecution “on account of” her membership in such a group.
Perdomo v. Holder is an important victory for advocates of gender based claims and, according to Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender Studies and a professor at Hastings College of Law, this is the first case to reach this high in the United States’ court system, which has grappled with determining gender-based claims for asylum.
This is not the end of the matter for Ms. Perdomo. The case will be remanded for further consideration. She will still need to prove that Guatemalan women are a social group and that her feared persecution is “on account of” her gender. It seems like she also may not be eligible for asylum, since she filed more than one year after her arrival in the United States. Although she still has some obstacles before her, at least the Ninth Circuit has given Ms. Perdomo a chance.