Evolving US Political Asylum: A Beacon of Hope for Domestic Violence Victims

By: Moises Apsan
September 28, 2023, 2:18 am

Explore how US political asylum expands its reach to protect victims of domestic violence, providing hope and empowerment for those seeking refuge.

In a moment of sheer triumph for justice and human compassion, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has illuminated the path to hope in the extraordinary case of Jaceyls Miguelina de Pena-Paniagua v. William P. Barr, affectionately referred to as the 'De Pena' ruling of 2020. Picture this: a legal milestone that sparks a blaze of hope in the hearts of women and sometimes men everywhere, as the United States steps up to be a beacon of safety for those fleeing the torment of domestic violence.


Traditionally individuals who faced threats due to their beliefs belonging to social groups, religion or nationality were granted asylum; Domestic Violence was not included. However recent changes in asylum law have expanded its scope to include victims of violence as applicants. The addition of violence, as a reason for seeking asylum in the United States represents a significant change in asylum law demonstrating the country’s commitment to upholding justice, human rights, and gender equality. This modification acknowledges that violence against women often arises from ingrained norms that perpetuate discrimination and oppression.


The main countries whose citizens have typically sought asylum in the United States are nations plagued by instability, conflict and severe human rights violations. Countries such, as Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela and Myanmar have consistently been ranked as sources of individuals seeking asylum. These people often flee their home countries due to persecution related to their activities, religious beliefs, ethnicity or other group affiliations.


However an important development in the case of domestic  violence is that individuals from any country may now apply for asylum in the United States. This significant change came about after a decision made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018. He reversed a ruling that denied asylum claims based on violence and recognized that victims of severe domestic violence could qualify for asylum. This decision marked a turning point in US asylum policy by acknowledging that gender based violence can also be considered a form of persecution deserving protection under US law. However applicants must establish elements;



  1. Persecution; Applicants must demonstrate that they have experienced persecution or abuse in their home country based on their gender or membership, in a social group. This persecution should be both widespread and systematic.

  2. To be eligible, for asylum based on violence the applicant must demonstrate that they belong to a social group defined by characteristics such as gender, marital status or other unchangeable attributes. For instance this group could consist of women who're unable to leave abusive relationships due to cultural norms.

  3. It is essential for the applicant to provide evidence showing that their home countrys government is either incapable or unwilling to protect them from violence or take action against their abuser. This often requires demonstrating instances of police indifference or government tolerance of violence.

  4. The applicant must establish a connection between the persecution they have endured and their membership in the social group. In terms they need to prove that the violence they have experienced is directly related to being part of that group.



Considering violence as grounds for asylum is particularly significant because it acknowledges the issue of persecution based on gender. Many women across the globe suffer abuse and violence, within patriarchal societies frequently at the hands of their partners or family members.


Recognizing violence as a reason, for seeking asylum the United States offers a vital avenue for individuals to escape from these distressing situations and find safety and protection. Moreover this inclusion aligns with recognized human rights standards. The United Nations has consistently emphasized the importance of addressing gender based violence as a violation of rights. By extending asylum protection to victims of violence the United States reinforces its dedication to these principles.


In summary expanding US asylum to encompass victims of violence signifies a significant change in asylum law. It showcases the nations commitment to safeguarding individuals facing persecution irrespective of their nationality or the specific form of threat they endure. Asylum now stands as a symbol of hope not for those persecuted due to reasons but also for those seeking refuge from the horrors inflicted by domestic violence. The United States continues to serve as a sanctuary for those in need reaffirming its commitment, to justice, human rights and compassion.

Apsanlaw Offices