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Legal Information: Federal


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January 29, 2019

Can a victim of domestic violence file for asylum?

Non-U.S. citizen victims of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based abuse may qualify for asylum status if their abuse was related to any of the five “protected grounds” explained in What is asylum? Who can be eligible for asylum status?1

Generally, someone who experienced domestic violence or sexual assault in another country may apply for asylum in the U.S. if the government in his/her home country is “unwilling or unable” to protect the victim from the violence perpetrated against him/her.

Under the current U.S. government, it has become more difficult to win an asylum case based on domestic violence. In June 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision declaring that such cases should “generally” no longer be approved. Since then, more judges have been rejecting asylum applications based on domestic violence. However, under the law, domestic violence survivors can still be found eligible for asylum if they meet the relevant legal requirements, and many applications are still being approved. Additionally, Sessions’ decision is being challenged in the courts. In December 2018, a federal judge issued a positive decision ruling that the federal government cannot use Sessions’ decision when doing preliminary asylum screenings for “credible fear” at the border.

An undocumented person can apply for asylum2 but if the application is not granted it could ultimately result in his/her deportation. We recommend contacting a knowledgeable immigration attorney who has experience working on asylum before applying. It is important to speak to a lawyer who has specific experience in this area of law. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations Immigration page.

1 See INA § 101(a)(42), 8 CFR § 208.13
2 See USCIS website