Today the New York Immigration Court granted asylum to a young woman fleeing a forced marriage in her native Guatemala. "Sofia" (a pseudonym to protect her identity) was only 13 years old when her father and grandfather ordered her to live with her 26 year old former second grade teacher as his wife. The teacher had been visiting Sofia and sending her letters in an attempt to convince her to be his girlfriend. Sofia had been frightened but did not know what to do to put a stop to his pursuit of her.
When her family found out that the teacher had been sending Sofia letters, and that rumors had spread in their village that Sofia and the teacher were dating, her father and grandfather told her she must go live with the teacher to keep from bringing shame to the family. Though Sofia did not want to live with this man, she knew that no one in her village, including the police, would defy her family's wishes and help her. By moving in with the teacher, she was considered his wife in rural Guatemalan custom.
Once Sofia was in his home, the teacher raped her repeatedly, refused to let her see her friends and family or continue going to school, and verbally abused her whenever she was "disobedient." Sofia was required to perform domestic labor for the teacher and his parents and work in the family business. She endured this sexual and domestic slavery for two years before finally finding an opportunity to escape. Her family in Guatemala had already refused to help her escape the teacher's abuse, so she fled to the U.S. to be free from the forced marriage.
Sofia received assistance and social services from the Door, an organization dedicated to helping young people in New York, and attorneys at the Door contacted Human Rights USA. Human Rights USA filed an asylum application on behalf of Sofia in June 2008, arguing that the forced marriage, sexual and domestic slavery she had endured and would likely face again if returned to Guatemala qualified her for asylum protection. On August 13, 2010 the Immigration Judge agreed, granting asylum to the 18 year old.
Sofia will now be able to remain in New York where she has been attending high school for two years. She hopes to become a teacher or social worker one day and help other young people make better lives for themselves.
Sofia's successful case is a ray of hope for other women who have fled forced marriages or other forms of human trafficking and have no hope of protection in their native countries. By granting asylum to Sofia and others like her, the U.S. reaffirms its commitment to protect refugees and survivors of trafficking and to uphold the rights to consensual marriage, freedom from persecution and torture, and freedom from gender-based abuse enshrined in treaties and domestic laws.