Degree Year

2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Latin American Studies

Advisor(s)

Kristina Mani

Committee Member(s)

Jan Cooper
Patrick O'Connor

Keywords

Asylum, Guatemala, Gender, Gender-based asylum, Immigration

Abstract

Karen Musalo, a leading asylum attorney, explains,“In the United States, few refugee issues have been as controversial as that of gender asylum.” Despite perceived progress, inconsistent judicial decisions engender doubts about the viability of gender-based asylum cases. The U.S. courts continue to see violence against women as a personal or family matter rather than a pattern of accepted social behavior supported by the political and legal authorities. Using cases from Guatemalan women seeking asylum, my research scrutinizes the asylum system, and shows how the U.S. furthers a colonial, paternalistic narrative—allowing U.S. judges, adjudicators, and policymakers to decide who is worthy—or not worthy—of U.S. protection. The asylum system interacts with an embedded structure of power that disregards the impact of the historical relationship between the U.S. and Guatemala. Using a textual study of specific case documents, this paper analyzes the experience, ability, and process of seeking asylum as a method for examining the legacies of paternalism. In asylum cases, adjudicators can make decisions based on their own bias against a woman’s testimony. Judges can require women to reshape their experience to meet the provisions of the law and make rulings that deemphasize the experience of violence. My specific study of Guatemalan women seeking asylum shows how factual distortions, institutionalized prejudice, and misogyny impact the asylum process.

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