The Catholic University of America

Lynsay Gott is an Equal Justice Works fellow and refuge project associate with the World Organization for Human Rights USA.

Twice Persecuted

The longstanding goal and, in fact, the very point of America's asylum laws are to provide a means of escape to a safe haven for people facing persecution.

But what qualifies as persecution? Contrary to what many people might expect, women fleeing forced marriages in their native countries generally do not meet the definition under United States law.

Speaking to students attending a Law and Public Policy Program Forum on Nov. 18, immigration attorney Lynsay Gott, who specializes in representing women who have been wedged into marriages arranged by other people, said that many of her clients have trouble meeting the criteria for asylum eligibility.

Gott, an Equal Justice Works fellow and refuge project associate with the World Organization for Human Rights USA, explained that the legal definition of persecution sets a very clear standard: the alleged persecution must involve or be supported by the government of the claimant's country. A person tortured by a police force or an army unit has a powerful case to make before an American immigration court, but a woman suffering in an abusive marriage to a man she was coerced into marrying does not.

"What immigration judges see as run-of-the-mill harm is actually a serious international problem," said Gott. She noted that asylum claims based on rape face the same problem. More often than not, they are denied in U.S. courts because judges usually consider rape a private crime, not a political policy.

Gott was one of two speakers invited by LPP's interim director, Professor Suzette Malveaux, to share their expertise with students. The second speaker was Jason A. Dzubow, a partner with Mensah, Butler & Dzubow, PLLC in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.