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Keker & Van Nest Associates Win Asylum for Domestic Violence Victim

The Daily Journal
07/11/2011

Keker & Van Nest associates Zachary F. Bookman and Nikki K. Vo used cutting-edge social group theory to win asylum for their client, Heydi Ojeda Cachon, who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband in rural Mexico.  

In his front-page story for the Daily Journal, reporter John Roemer wrote that the government's grant last month of political asylum to Ojeda Cachon on social group membership grounds could signal a change in federal policy in favor of asylum-seekers' domestic violence claims, which have until recently occupied a murky and disputed niche in the law.

"Asylum bids rise or fall on whether applicants can prove they were persecuted in their homelands due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group. For example, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Friday granted asylum to a Mexican man who suffered torture in retaliation for blowing the whistle on government corruption in a state development agency. That fit within the category of persecution for political activity, the panel ruled.  

Less easily characterized, however, is the social group category - the most disputed of the asylum grounds listed in the Immigration and Naturalization Act because it is seen as something of a vague catchall that courts have struggled to define. Examples of social groups seen to merit asylum are Somali female tribal members likely to be forced to undergo genital mutilation and Brazilian gay men persecuted for their homosexuality.

But persuading federal immigration authorities that domestic violence victims comprise a social group for asylum purposes has been a lengthy, ongoing process. That, however, may be changing," Roemer wrote.

"'The law is shifting in favor of these victims who need protection,'" Mr. Bookman, Ojeda Cachon's lead attorney,  told the Daily Journal.

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