Asylum Victory for Guatemalan Women

     (CN) - The 9th Circuit opened the door for young Guatemalan women to seek asylum based on the alarming numbers of women who are allegedly tortured and murdered with impunity there -- a threat one asylum seeker calls "femicide."
     A three-judge panel in San Francisco said immigration officials must consider recognizing young Guatemalan women as a "particular social group" for asylum purposes, given the claim that government officials in Guatemala turn a blind eye to the torture and murder of women.
     An immigration judge said she was "sympathetic to the plight" of Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, a young asylum seeker from Guatemala, but declined to recognize women between the ages of 14 and 40 as a "particular social group."
     The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed that the group was too broad to qualify as a protected social group.
     On appeal, the 9th Circuit called the board's ruling "inconsistent with its own precedent and this court's case law."
     Though the court has never directly tackled whether women, without some other defining characteristic, qualify as a social group for asylum purposes, it has recognized groups of young women from a certain tribe or clan. In those rulings, clan membership and ethnicity were not limiting factors.
     "[W]e clearly acknowledged that women in a particular country, regardless of ethnicity or clan membership, could form a particular social group," Judge Richard Paez wrote.
     The panel told the immigration board to review the asylum petition of Perdomo, who says she fears for her life if returned to Guatemala. She left her native country when she was 15 and now works as a Medicaid account executive in Reno, Nev.
     She no longer has any close relatives in Guatemala and claims her lack of family would make her a vulnerable target, as would the money she earned in the United States and her involvement in a Pentecostal church.
     The 9th Circuit left it up to the board to decide if young Guatemalan women constitute a particular social group and, if so, whether Perdomo is entitled to U.S. asylum based on her membership in that group.