Federal Court Rules in Favor of NWIRP Client, Reaffirms Protections for Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Contact: Matt Adams, Legal Director, matt@nwirp.org, 206-957-8611

SEATTLE, WA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday that an immigration judge in Seattle had erred in issuing a deportation order against a survivor of domestic violence whose children had been physically abused by her former partner and who had been abused herself.   The decision by the federal court reaffirmed that protections for domestic violence survivors in the immigration system are to be read generously and broadly.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision came in the case of a 31-year-old resident of Eastern Washington, M.L.B., who was represented in the case by staff attorney Martha Rickey and legal director Matt Adams of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP).   The National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women also filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of M.L.B.’s petition before the Ninth Circuit.
After coming to the U.S. at age 14, M.L.B. endured significant domestic abuse by her partner G.C., who was also the father of their two children.  G.C. was also physically abusive towards the two children.  When M.L.B. was placed in deportation (removal) proceedings, she applied for a form of protection under immigration law known as “VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] cancellation of removal,” a provision that would allow her to remain in the United States with her children.  The immigration judge denied her application, however, finding that, in order to obtain this form of protection, the applicant had to show that her children had been subjected to a “heightened level of violence,” not just battery as provided in the statute.  The administrative appellate body (the Board of Immigration Appeals) affirmed that ruling.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision on Monday rejected the government’s narrow reading of the legal protections available under VAWA.  The court found that the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals had “made several errors” in their legal analysis by requiring more than a showing of simple battery.  The three judge panel considering the case first reaffirmed an earlier decision that found that “Congress’s goal in enacting VAWA was to eliminate barriers to women leaving abusive relationships.”   The court also rejected the government’s position that the immigration court could consider state-law definitions when determining what is required under this federal law.  The Ninth Circuit concluded that the undisputed evidence of physical abuse that M.L.B.’s children suffered clearly met the standard necessary for protection under VAWA.
“The Ninth Circuit rightly found that arbitrary beatings causing injury constitute ‘battery’ for purposes of the Violence Against Women Act,” said Martha Rickey, staff attorney in NWIRP’s Granger office.   “This is an important victory that ensures that immigrant and child victims of domestic violence will not face additional barriers to obtaining the protection that is available to them.”
 “We are relieved that the Ninth Circuit has rejected the government’s narrow reading of protections under the Violence Against Women Act,” said Matt Adams, legal director of NWIRP.  “Published decisions from the Ninth Circuit set precedents that will affect cases in a region that stretches from Arizona to Alaska, and this case should help countless other survivors of violence to obtain the protections that Congress wisely created for them.”
The Ninth Circuit’s decision can be found here.