The First Circuit ruled on Friday that “women unable to leave a domestic relationship” are a group eligible for asylum applications and cancellation of removal proceedings. The court’s opinion overturned a rule finalized under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018 that required the category of membership to be defined in separate terms from the type of persecution.
Applicants for asylum or cancellation of removal must prove that they are “unable or unwilling to return or to avail herself of the protection of her own country ‘because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.’ 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A)”
In this case, Jacelys Miguelina De Pena-Paniagua, a Dominican citizen, conceded her removability and sought asylum through “withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and protection under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT).” De Pena alleged that her former partner and father of her son “abused her in the past, will abuse her in the future, and will remain undeterred by Dominican law enforcement authorities, who have been nonresponsive to her requests for help.”
De Pena’s application was denied by an immigration judge, as was a subsequent appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), on the grounds that an order by the attorney general ruled “any group defined by its members’ inability to leave a relationship must be insufficient.” That order addressed a similar case in which “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” were determined not to meet the legal standards necessary to qualify as a valid particular social group.