Mrd Legal Services Commentary Domestic/Family Violence
The legal situation of asylum for victims of gender-based persecution is evolving, with significant changes over the past decade. In 1995, the Immigration and Naturalization Service issued guidelines recognizing this category of asylum-seekers or asylum-seekers. The following year, a Togolese woman who had fled to escape female genital mutilation was granted asylum in this category. In 2001, the Ministry of Justice used this reasoning to grant asylum to a Guatemalan woman fleeing an abusive husband. Gender-based persecution is only recognised in a directive, but not in a regulation, so the rules are always interpreted on a case-by-case basis. Ms. Niro is fortunate to be in the United States legally, even temporarily. Asylum seekers who enter the United States without a valid visa face additional hurdles. Many will face immediate deportation under expedited deportation rules without their claims being heard by an immigration judge.
Those who are not immediately deported can be detained until they can prove a credible fear of persecution. This can mean months of incarceration in immigration detention or prison, even for those whose families are willing to take responsibility. This incarceration is particularly harsh for women with young children, who may be separated from them and even placed in foster care for long periods of time. Women are sometimes retraumatized by the experience of incarceration and are vulnerable to abuse by guards and others. Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to diagnose conditions for which they have no treatments. Historically, domestic violence has fallen into this category. Over the past generation, however, most U.S. states have established legal assistance, police protection, hotlines, and shelters for victims of domestic violence. When physicians are aware of these resources, they now feel a little more comfortable asking their patients about abuse and asking victims for available help.
Spousal violence perpetrators are generally reluctant to change their behaviour, so health professionals generally encourage victims to leave perpetrators. When a woman tries to leave, the extent of the violence often worsens, so outside help is often needed. As a physician, Dr. Cartwright is perhaps the most authoritative figure Niro has sought help from. Given that her own country`s police and courts were unwilling to intervene, Niro is unlikely to turn to the U.S. police or justice system. Doctors have helped her in the past when they were hospitalized to protect her. In order for Dr. Cartwright to properly treat his patient, she must deal with her legal situation and have a knowledge of social institutions and a basic understanding of the right to asylum. Asylum in the United States is available to individuals who “have been persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion, or who have a well-founded fear of persecution.” 1 This is commonly referred to as “political asylum,” a misnomer that unfortunately discourages women like Ms. Niro from considering this option.
She clearly does not see her situation as political. Domestic violence has long been considered a private matter limited to a particular family. In recent years, however, feminists and jurists have described domestic violence as one of many ways to impose male domination on women. Other examples include female genital mutilation, rape or threats of rape, honour killings and forced marriages. Ms. Niro is fortunate to have survived her physical abuse, successfully abandoned her husband and achieved physical safety. She has also found a sympathetic relative who is willing to help and knows about the asylum. Dr. Cartwright can now help her take the next steps. She can write an affidavit to document her injuries and correlate them with the violence described by Ms.
Niro. This may encourage them to find a lawyer and process their asylum claim. The application must be submitted within 1 year of arrival in the United States. Some immigrant advocacy groups offer low-cost legal recommendations. Finally, the doctor can provide ongoing medical care and look for complications, including the psychological consequences of abuse. Dr. Cartwright will also be able to provide the psychosocial support that Ms. Niro and Cheryl will need in the coming months. However, migrant women do not have the same legal support as U.S.
citizens. Instead of supporting such a woman`s independence, immigration laws interfere with her ability to leave her husband. Many migrant women have to stay with their husbands or be deported. The law may prohibit them from working, making them economically dependent on the perpetrator. Similarly, even legal immigrants may not qualify for public assistance, which provides a safety net for American women. In order to stay in this country and access social services when needed, an immigrant must have independent immigration status. An application for asylum may be the only way to obtain this status. Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §1186b (2002). Karin Kalkstein, MD is a primary care physician in the Department of Family Medicine at Jamaica Hospital, affiliated with Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where she coordinates the Women`s Health Program.
She is a member of the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network and is interested in health care for immigrants and refugees, as well as access to reproductive health. Ms. Niro`s symptoms are clear and are obviously a direct result of her abuse; Women in their situation may experience anxiety and depression or somatic complaints stemming from their distress, where the diagnosis of domestic violence is more difficult to detect. Her physical scars are, of course, unfortunate for Ms. Niro, but it may be easier to prove her persecution in immigration court. “I credit the hotline for saving my life from an abuser and giving me the facts I needed in an emergency to equip me to get out.”