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A violent murder in Mexico has vacated a groundbreaking 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling establishing asylum for victims of domestic violence. The circuit was set to revisit next week its earlier decision allowing Rosalba Aguirre-Cervantes to seek shelter in the United States because the government of Mexico did nothing to protect her from an abusive father. But the issues presented in the case became moot when her father was recently shot to death. Lawyers involved in the case say they still aren’t sure what happened. “The circumstances are unclear to us. We are getting this second-hand,” said University of Southern California law professor Niels Frenzen, one of Aguirre-Cervantes’ lawyers. Aguirre-Cervantes has no desire to return to her family in Mexico, Frenzen said. “She’s in the U.S. at the present and wishes to stay.” On Friday, with each party’s stipulation, the 9th Circuit vacated its earlier decision, canceled oral arguments and remanded the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The case is, essentially, back at square one, and the death of her father has weakened Aguirre-Cervantes’ bid. In March, Senior 9th Circuit Judge David Thompson had ruled that a family could constitute a particular social group, and victimization by an abusive father could be persecution. Aguirre-Cervantes testified that she was beaten with a horse whip, branches and fists from the time she was a very small child. She still bears the scars. Her mother, she said, did not let her go to the police, and at 16 she fled her Michoacan home. A key issue in Aguirre-Cervantes v. INS, 99-70861, was whether the authorities would do anything to stop the father. Thompson ruled that in Mexico, they would not, noting that in Mexico City, with a population of 23 million, there was only one eight-bed shelter for battered women. Immigration lawyers now await a decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on regulations that would allow such bids. In the last days of President Clinton’s administration, then-Attorney General Janet Reno implemented the regulations. But the regulations were vacated when the new administration took over, and a decision on their fate has been pending for months.

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