Manatt Files Amicus Brief in Domestic Abuse Case Before Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

Manatt filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (“NIWAP”) in an appeal from the Board of Immigration Appeals decision finding that a Honduran woman who fled an abusive and violent relationship in her home country was ineligible for asylum.  

Ada Rivas-Ramos faced abuse at the hands of her former partner with whom she had been in a relationship since she was 14 years old and shared children. Rivas-Ramos testified as to the sustained abuse she suffered throughout their relationship, including that the abuser hit her in the face with a bottle, threatened her and their children’s lives, and ordered men whom he sent after her to sexually assault her.  

In 2019, an immigration judge denied Rivas-Ramos asylum following a series of negative Attorney General decisions that severely restricted access to asylum based on domestic violence. In 2023, after those decisions had been vacated, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) found that, assuming her proposed particular social group of “Honduran woman who are unable to leave a domestic relationship” was cognizable, she remained ineligible for asylum because she had not established her membership in that group. According to the BIA, because she had temporarily been able to move out of the home she shared with her abuser, who later manipulated Rivas-Ramos into moving back in with him, she had not demonstrated that she was “unable” to leave the relationship. The BIA so held despite her testimony that the abuse escalated after she returned following that brief separation and that he continued to stalk her. 

In the brief, Manatt examined the social science research around intimate partner violence that explains physically leaving a residence shared with an abusive partner does not mean the survivor has successfully ended the relationship.  This is particularly true where there are children in common, when there is economic abuse, and when the abuser was coercively controlling the victim. The BIA’s denial of her asylum rested on the premise she would be able to leave the relationship again, which is inapposite to the research. 

“This [premise] is both at odds with the plain facts of this case and decades of research regarding intimate partner violence,” the brief said. “Research has found that physical separation does not preclude the threat of violence, nor should it be considered as the sole determining factor, as the underlying decision in this case suggests.” 

The brief also explained many indicators present in both the case history and in peer-reviewed research that showed Rivas-Ramos was likely to face increased violence or even death should she be forced to return to Honduras. Many risk factors – including stalking, which has the highest indication of an abuser killing their victim – were present in Rivas-Ramos’ case.  

“The court failed to consider the impact of the full range of ongoing abuse perpetrated in this case, ignored the fact that her abuser’s behavior became increasingly more violent toward her, and incorrectly concluded that because she had been able to separate from her abuser there was a reduced risk of harm to Ms. Rivas-Ramos,” the brief said. “To the contrary, the record in fact established, and the scientific literature further supports, that the Ms. Rivas-Ramos is at a very high risk of lethal violence should she be forced to return to Honduras.” 

The Manatt team representing NIWAP included Partners Benjamin Shatz, Harvey Rochman and Sirena Castillo and Associates Thomas Worger and Kyla Núñez

Read the full amicus brief here

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