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Asylum now available for Albanian women facing human trafficking

After a difficult transition from communist rule to a free-market, democratic member of the European Union, Albania can still be a dangerous place for vulnerable young women. Add to that a large number of people emigrating elsewhere, and the protections available to young single women can be further diminished to unacceptable levels.

Even the U.S. State Department recognizes that Albania has a serious problem with forced prostitution and human sex trafficking, but until recently it wasn’t clear that young women who reasonably fear being kidnapped and exploited by human traffickers could obtain asylum in the United States.

The question was answered definitively for one young Albanian woman. She appealed her the denial of her asylum application to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which officially covers only cases brought in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, but in immigration cases the federal courts take decisions by other circuits seriously enough that it’s quite possible her case could be cited in North Carolina cases in the near future.

This young woman was left living on her own when her parents emigrated in 2001, which drew the attention of a sex trafficking gang she heard had kidnapped a high school girl for forced  prostitution. Worried, she moved 120 miles away to live with her sister. Unfortunately, her sister emigrated too, leaving the younger woman alone once more. It became clear that she was again a target of sex-trafficking gangs and “remained a target no matter where she lived” in Albania.

When she applied for asylum in the U.S., it was initially granted. However, the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned it and moved for deportation. It asserted she hadn’t proved, as is required by U.S. immigration law, that her admittedly well-founded fear of persecution was “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Young single women, the board asserted, are not a defined social group. Instead, the 7th Circuit said, the board had "emphasized that [her] proposed group was defined in large part by the harm inflicted on its members and did not exist independently of the traffickers."

On Friday, the full 7th Circuit reinstated her grant of asylum. "The characteristics of the group consist of the immutable or fundamental traits of being young, female, and living alone in Albania," wrote the majority. It also pointed out that in the past, the board has “never required complete independence of any relationship to the persecutor.”

The woman can now remain in the U.S. until the sex-trafficking risk in Albania is resolved or she earns lawful permanent residency or U.S. citizenship.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Sex Trafficking Risks Give Albanians Asylum,” Elizabeth Warmerdam, Aug. 13, 2013