Guatemalan Women Fleeing Endemic Violence Have Statistics On Their Side
SOURCE: Flickr / suttonhoo
This week the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a decision made by the Board of Immigration Appeals that could set a new precedent in the way immigration judges consider asylum requests.
The July 12th ruling recognized that Lesly Yajayra Perdomo, a Medicaid account executive living in Reno, should have her case reviewed to determine whether her status as a woman in Guatemala classifies her as a member of a persecuted social group. Perdomo argued before the BIA she belongs to a "protected social group", citing women between the ages of 14 and 40 are at a high risk for abuse and murder in Guatemala. The BIA ruled Perdomo’s claims to a "protected social group" were too broad. A Los Angeles Times article described the 9th Circuit’s position: “The 9th Circuit judges disagreed and said that they had previously determined that Gypsies, homosexuals and Somali woman facing genital mutilation made up social groups for purposes of asylum.”
In the past decade Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala have seen a significant increase in violent crimes, driving many adolescents and women north to the United States to seek asylum. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes released a study in 2007 that lends credence to Perdomo’s asylum bid. The report writes: “There are two keys areas of crime in which Central America is remarkable by global standards: the volumes of drugs trafficked through the region and the rate of murder.”
Murder rates tell the story. In 2007 El Salvador’s murder rate was 32 deaths for every 100,000 people according to the UNODC. World Report 2010, released by Human Rights Watch, writes Guatemala’s murder rate was 48 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2008. Compare these figures to America’s 6 murders by the same measure. The UNODC report highlighted a Guatemalan town, Petén, that endured 116 murders per 100,000 people in 2004, at a time when the national average was about a third less than the most recent Human Rights Watch figures.
In neighboring El Salvador, the homicide rate is higher today than the rate during the height of civil war conflict. In Guatemala, the story is similar. Even though the country saw a drop off in murders following the mid-90s, by 2004 murder rates were higher than during the war years. In both examples, the UN report points to drug cartels increasingly utilizing the Central American countries as trafficking routes for the North American drug markets. By the early 2000s, this strip of countries replaced the Caribbean countries as the preferred avenue for drug smuggling.
Human Rights Watch also estimated 722 women were murdered in Guatemala in 2008, with 27 percent of the victims raped or tortured. Citing an UN special rapporteur, the report concluded, “investigations into crimes against women, including transgender women, are often inadequate and obstructed by investigating police who act with a gender bias.”
Given the extreme violence of the region, it seems Perdomo has a point: Not only are women particularly vulnerable in a country more at war with itself than during the Civil Wars years, they suffer a discriminatory legal system that both the UN and Human Rights Watch regard as subservient to organized crime networks.
Mikhail Zinshteyn is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.