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Immigration Judge Grants Asylum To Abused Woman From Honduras

by David L. Cleveland

Immigration Judge Bertha A. Zuniga granted asylum to an abused woman from Honduras, in a 20-page Decision dated January 18, 2011. [San Antonio, Texas Immigration Court; a redacted Decision is available at].

Judge Zuniga quoted from "Supplementary Information" to regulations proposed in the year 2000, which have not yet been enacted. She discussed the widespread and increasing "femicide" [murder of women because they are women] in Honduras. She also found that a genuine refugee could understandably make false statements during a credible fear interview.

Ms. "H," a twenty-two year old single woman, worked as a hostess at a restaurant. A customer, Mr. "X," took a liking to her and asked her out several times for lunch or ice cream. She always refused. Mr. X telephoned her several times; finally, one day she told him to stop calling; that same night, four men beat her up, stating they were only "following orders."

Mr. X threatened her mother and sister. Then, he raped Ms. H. She went to the police station, where she was told by an officer that Mr. X was his friend, and that no report would be taken.

Mr. X sent her messages each day, ordering her not to speak to anyone, and threatening to harm her family if she did not obey his commands. Mr. X beat and raped her more than once. She moved to the city of Tegucigalpa, but Mr. X found her there and brought her back.

Ms. H, five months pregnant by Mr. X, left Honduras and was captured by "coyotes" who refused to provide her food. Soon after her arrival in the United States, she was interviewed by an asylum officer, to whom she made some inconsistent statements. At the time of this interview, Ms. H said she was hungry, tired, nervous, and confused. "She also said she was very frightened and did not know if she could trust the people questioning her." [Decision at page 5].

The sister and mother of Ms. H submitted affidavits, as did an expert, who opined that Ms. H suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"Several Circuit Courts" have held that mere inconsistencies between statements in a credible fear interview and testimony in court do not support an adverse credibility finding. [Decision at page 10, citations omitted]. True refugees are "often distrustful and afraid of government agents during a credible fear interview…They may be in a state of shock or ashamed to talk about the abuse they endured." [Id., citations omitted].

"Far from evidencing a willingness to lie, an alien who gives false or incomplete statements during a credible fear interview for fear of deportation to the country of persecution can be entirely consistent with a fear of persecution." [Id., citations and quotations omitted; emphasis added.]

There is a great deal of femicide in Honduras.

"Femicide is defined as the murder of women simply because they are women." [Decision at page 11]. The Department of State [DOS] reported that femicides in Honduras have become "increasingly widespread" and "systematic" in recent years. Id. 90% of femicide perpetrators are never prosecuted. Id.

Gender-based violence is the second largest cause of death for women of reproductive age in Honduras. [Decision at page 14]. The DOS described the killing of women as "systematic." Id. There has been an increase of femicides in recent years; one woman is killed every 28 hours. Id. Honduras has passed several laws condemning domestic violence and violence against women, but the laws are not enforced. In June, 2009, a new conservative government came into power, backed by leaders "who are opposed to women's rights." Id. Women's "basis human rights have deteriorated since the coup." [Decision at page 17]

"The new de facto government has also deliberately targeted women for violence." [Decision at page 17]. Female protestors are targeted in more "sexually aggressive ways," and have been raped. Id.
There are only two battered women's shelters in Honduras. [Decision at page 16]

Persecution on account of a protected ground.

Ms. H claims she was persecuted on account of her membership in the particular social group of "Honduran women who are unable to leave their domestic relationship." [Decision at page 12].
In Matter of R-A-, 22 I&N Dec. 906, 917 (BIA 1999), the Board denied relief to a domestic violence victim, in part because there was "no showing that the respondent's husband targeted any other women in Guatemala." [This last quotation is not in the Decision of Judge Zuniga; however, the context of the Decision makes it clear that the quotation was important to Judge Zuniga.] On December 7, 2000, eleven years ago, then-Attorney General Janet Reno published Proposed Rules at 65 Fed. Reg. 76588-01.

These Rules "seek to clarify Matter of R-A-, but they are not binding authority." [Decision at page 13.] "Nonetheless, because the BIA has not yet issued new binding precedent concerning Matter of R-A-, the Court finds that the accompanying commentary to these rules can serve as a valuable secondary source for interpreting prior administrative decisions." [Decision at page 13].

The Supplementary Information to these Rules provides that it is "reasonable" to expect a person who would harm one victim, due to her characteristics, would also harm others with those characteristic. However, such a showing is not "required by law." Thus, a victim of domestic violence can prevail, even though the abuser only harms just one woman, "because only one of these women is in a domestic relationship with the abuser." [Decision at page 13, quoting from 65 Fed. Reg. at 76592-93]

Ms. H "has proven that abused women in male-dominated intimate relationships often face domestic violence in Honduras and that women who face domestic violence are known and socially visible to society, despite the fact that Honduran society provides little or no support to abused women, and in some ways even encourages violence against women by classifying them as less deserving of basic human rights than men." [Decision at page 15]

It is true that there is no evidence that Mr. X targeted another member of the particular social group of Ms. H. However, as stated by the Supplementary Information to the Proposed Rules, this fact "does not diminish that he persecuted Respondent on account of her membership is a particular social group." [Decision at page 15] At least "one central reason" for his actions was that "she is a Honduran woman in a male-dominated intimate relationship." [Decision at page 16].

= Comments of the author
1. How "visible" is a group of women who are unable to leave their domestic relationship?
In Matter of A-M-E & J-G-U, 24 I&N Dec. 69, 74 (BIA 2007), the Board stated that a particular social group must be "socially visible" in the sense that it must be "generally recognized by others in the community." Judge Zuniga did not explain how a single woman who cannot escape a stalker is "visible" to anyone. Perhaps the Judge agrees with the Seventh Circuit, which has stated that "visibility" should be irrelevant. Ramos v. Holder, 589 F.3d 426, 430 (7th Cir. 2009).

The DHS itself is on record, however, as supporting asylum for this group: "Mexican women in domestic relationships who are unable to leave." See the 31-page brief filed by DHS on April 13, 2009 in Matter of L-R-, published on AILA InfoNet at Doc. 09071664 (posted July 16, 2009).

2. Ms. H is also a member of another particular social group: "Honduran women who fled from a domestic relationship."
For a time, she was in a relationship she was "unable to leave." That is particular social group #1. Then, she did leave; she fled. So, now she is in particular social group #2: "women who have fled from a domestic relationship." She may fail in her claim that she deserves asylum as a result of her membership in group #1; regardless, she may assert an additional claim: "she has a well-founded fear of future persecution as a result of being a member of group #2."
The Third Circuit has recognized that a woman was a member of three different particular social groups: 1] women who dated police officers; 2] dental hygiene students; and 3] "women who escaped involuntary servitude after being abducted and confined." Gomez-Zuluaga v. Mukasey, 527 F.3d 330, 348 (3rd Cir. 2008).

Ask your client if she is a member of more than one particular social group.

About The Author

David L. Cleveland a staff attorney at Catholic Charities of Washington, DC, was Chair of the AILA Asylum Committee (2004-05) and has secured asylum or withholding for people from 34 countries.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.