The First Circuit rejected an appeal from a petitioner who claimed to have been persecuted on account of her membership in the particular social group comprised of "Salvadoran women in intimate relationships with partners who view them as property." The petitioner testified that she had a relationship with her abuser for approximately 18 months, but that the two of them never lived together. He became progressively more abusive throughout the relationship, inflicting verbal, physical, and sexual abuse on her. She conceived a child as a result of the sexual abuse. Her abuser was incarcerated on unrelated charges during the last year of their relationship. He called her and threatened her from jail on a regular basis. He purchased a home for her to live in with their child. He remained incarcerated when she left El Salvador.
The First Circuit concluded that "[b]eing in an intimate relationship with a partner who views you as property is not an immutable characteristic." The court distinguished the decision from the married woman in Matter of A-R-C-G-, noting that this applicant had never lived with her abuser and her abuser was incarcerated for the majority of their relatively short relationship. As such, the court concluded that she could have left the relationship.
The decision is alarming and seems to misunderstand the dynamics of domestic violence. The abuser's financial control, for example, was not addressed as a possible reason that the petitioner could not leave the relationship. In addition, the court failed to recognize that the birth of the petitioner's child - a product of rape - could emotionally, legally, and financially bind her to her abuser, who likely had parental rights to see his child.
The full decision in Vega-Ayala v. Lynch can be found here: