Hastings Journal on Gender and the Law


Blaine Bookey


The recent granting of asylum in the United States to the women in the highly publicized Matter of R-A- and Matter of L-R- cases has opened doors for other women fleeing horrific violence at the hands of their husbands and partners. Some immigration judges have begun to accept domestic violence as a basis for asylum as a result of the U.S. government’s approach in these cases. However, the absence of binding jurisprudential and regulatory norms remains a major impediment to fair and consistent outcomes for women who fear returning to countries where they face heinous abuse, or even death. While disparities in asylum adjudication in the United States have been well documented, exposing failures in the administrative system has had minimal impact on creating accountability, in part due to the continued lack of transparency in decision making. Decisions by immigration judges and many appellate agencies are not published or available in any publicly searchable database. This article aims to shed light on decision making trends and to provide greater transparency to the asylum system by analyzing 206 outcomes in domestic violence asylum cases from December 1994 to May 2012 collected by the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. The analysis will show that some adjudicators have acted consistently with developments in the Matter of RA- and L-R- cases, whereas others have been reluctant to follow the developments without official guidance, and yet others have acted with an erroneous understanding or ignorance of the events, especially where those developments were in favor of the asylum seeker, creating a haphazard record of inconsistent jurisprudence on whether domestic violence can be a basis for asylum. This article argues that, without clear guidance, the United States will continue to shirk its internat