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Trump Ninth Circuit judge Daniel Bress would deny a petition for asylum for a victim who suffered years of domestic violence with no help from authorities. The August 2020 decision was Diaz-Reynoso v. Barr.
Sontos Maudilia Diaz-Reynoso was from a small rural town in Guatemala and is a member of an indigenous group known as Mam. In 2008, Diaz-Reynoso moved in with Arnoldo Vasquez-Juarez, who is also Mam. They were common law husband and wife.
Vasquez-Juarez forced Diaz-Reynoso to work in the coffee fields without pay and to have sex with him. If she did not respond to his demands, Vasquez-Juarez would attack her and hit her on her head and body, often times with a belt. Diaz-Reynoso indicated the bruises would last for several days.
After four years of living with Vasquez-Juarez, Diaz-Reynoso fled and entered the United States. She was apprehended and returned to Guatemala. Vasquez-Juarez found her and told her that if she did not return to live with him, he would kill her and her daughter or harm her mother. Diaz-Reynoso returned to live with Vasquez-Juarez for about a year and the domestic abuse continued. Diaz-Reynoso reported Vasquez-Juarez’s abuse to the authorities, but nothing was done. Eventually, she fled again to the United States.
She was detained a second time and her prior removal order was reinstated. She pled guilty to illegal entry and was sentenced to thirty days in jail. While Diaz-Reynoso was in detention, an asylum officer interviewed her and concluded that she had established a credible fear of persecution if returned to Guatemala. The officer referred her to removal proceedings before an immigration judge (IJ). Diaz-Reynoso defined her membership in a particular social group as “Guatemalan indigenous women who are unable to leave their relationship,” and provided evidence to show why she could not be sent back to Guatemala.
The IJ concluded that she did not establish membership in her particular social group, did not show that she would more likely than not suffer persecution, and did not demonstrate that the Guatemalan authorities would be unable or unwilling to protect her from abuse. Diaz-Reynoso appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
Without specific analysis of her case, the BIA concluded that Diaz-Reynoso’s proposed particular social group was not clearly identifiable and that she failed to establish that the authorities of Guatemala would not respond to any torture she might suffer. Diaz-Reynoso appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
In a 2-1 decision, the majority reversed the BIA’s ruling and remanded the case so the BIA could conduct a more specific analysis. The majority explained that the BIA’s decision departs from its own precedent which held that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” could serve as a basis for asylum. BIA precedent has been premised on the rule that “persecutory action taken toward a group can be relevant to that group’s social visibility (now social distinction). It is equally clear that the mere mention of persecutory action does not defeat an otherwise cognizable social group.” Trump judge Bress dissented, claiming that allegations based on domestic violence “are unlikely to satisfy the statutory grounds for proving group persecution.”