Many women seeking asylum in the United States because they are victims of domestic violence are spending long periods of time in detention while their cases are pending, experts say.
“It’s an issue I’ve been aware of for a long time but has been more and more concerning because women are spending really prolonged periods of time detained in Eloy, where I work, who have domestic violence-based asylum claims,” said Nina Rabin, a law professor at the University of Arizona.
To raise awareness and bring a national perspective, Rabin will host “Fleeing violence, finding prison: A panel discussion of the treatment of migrant women in flight from domestic violence in the U.S. immigration system” at 4 p.m. Thursday. The event is funded by the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice.
In 2010-2011, a social worker partnering with Rabin first noticed a number of women in the Eloy Detention Center who had been detained for more than a year just to see their asylum case through, she said.
Last year, the nation’s top immigration court ruled that women who suffer severe domestic violence in their country may be eligible for asylum in the United States.
The Board of Immigration Appeals decision was focused on a Guatemalan woman eligible for asylum as part of the “particular social group” category, in this case abused women from countries that are unwilling or unable to protect them. To many lawyers, it resolved a nearly 20-year legal battle and offered guidance to courts across the country.
But the uncertainly remains, Rabin said.
The board’s decision also came in a year when there was a spike in the number of women coming to the United States with their children, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. More than 68,000 families were caught by the Border Patrol, the majority of them in South Texas.
As part of the government’s response to the surge, it increased its capacity to detain families while their cases are pending.
It first opened a temporary center in Artesia, New Mexico, that could hold up to 700 people. While that center closed in November, the government now has three family detention centers with current capacity for about 1,000 people.
In February, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction that halted the administration’s policy of detaining immigrant mothers and their children seeking asylum in order to deter others from coming.