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US to Consider Domestic Abuse in Asylum Cases

FILE - Salvadoran Yesenia Elizabeth Orellana, 40, who is pregnant, holds hands with her daughter Valentina, 3, as her friend Mirna Laines, also pregnant, looks on at the Catholic migrant shelter in San Luis Potosi.

Women fleeing spousal abuse in their home countries could be eligible for asylum in the United States for the first time, following a ruling this week.

The Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Guatemalan woman who escaped "repugnant abuse" by her husband can qualify for asylum, after police in Guatemala did not respond to her reports of weekly beatings, attacks and rape.

To seek asylum in the U.S., applicants must prove that the government in their home country was involved in their persecution, or was unable or unwilling to stop it.

They also must show they were persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group -- in this case, the group of "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship."

The ruling does not make asylum automatic in these cases. But it could open the door for spousal abuse victims from Guatemala and other countries to seek it.