The New York Times reports that an Immigration Judge in California has granted asylum to a Mexican woman-referred to as L.R.-who was the victim of severe domestic violence.  Her common-law husband repeatedly raped her, threatened her with a gun and a machete, and tried to burn her to death.  In April 2009, the Department of Homeland Security filed a brief that paved the way for last week's decision.  That brief, which represented a reversal of DHS's position during the Bush administration, concluded that "it is possible" that the Mexican woman "and other applicants who have experienced domestic violence could qualify for asylum."  According to the brief:

DHS suggests that the particular social group in asylum and withholding of removal claims based on domestic violence is best defined based on the evidence about how the respondent's abuser and her society perceive her role within the domestic relationship....  A group defined in light of this evidence might be articulated as "Mexican women in domestic relationships who are unable to leave" or as "Mexican women who are viewed as property by virtue of their positions within a domestic relationship."  DHS believes that groups understood in these ways, if adequately established in the record in any given case, would meet the requirements for a particular social group...

DHS also notes that the applicant must show that she cannot relocate within the country and that the government is unable or unwilling to protect her.  These factors will be determinative in most domestic violence asylum cases.

In L.R.'s case, experts testified that the police and government officials could not and would not protect her because of "the enormous social and cultural tolerance of this abuse, resulting in the virtual complicity of authorities who should prevent and punish these violent acts."  L.R. herself testified that she went to the authorities for help, and one "judge had offered to help her if she would have sex with him."  Thus, there was compelling evidence that the government would not protect her.  There was also compelling evidence and expert testimony that she could not relocate within Mexico.

The extreme facts of this case combined with documentary evidence and expert witness testimony led to an asylum grant.  It is doubtful that many abused women will have the same resources and support that were available to L.R. and that were the keys to success in her case.  However, L.R.'s case has established a framework for asylum based on domestic violence.  Now, at least, such women have a chance to gain protection in the United States.