Obama Adminstration Opening Doors For Women Fleeing Abuse

Rody Alvarado has been seeking asylum in the U.S. for more than 13 years, since she fled a horrifically abusive husband and an apathetic legal system in Guatemala. A new argument by the Obama Administration might provide her some hope.

Alvarado and another woman, L.R from Mexico., have been seeking asylum in the U.S. for 13 and 5 years respectively solely on the basis that they were battered by their partners and subject to a legal system that could not and did not seek to protect their rights. In Alvardo's case, she was actually granted asylum in 1996, only to have the government appeal the disposition and an appeals court rule against her. The Bush Administration was equally hostile to the claims of both women that injustice and possible death await them in their home countries, and refused to put into effect draft regulations establishing conditions under which domestic abuse could be considered in asylum cases. According to the New York Times:

Any applicant for asylum or refugee status in the United States must demonstrate a "well-founded fear of persecution" because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or "membership in a particular social group." The extended legal argument has been whether abused women could be part of any social group that would be eligible under those terms.

The Obama Administration's filings in L.R.'s case says explicitly that domestic abuse could qualify women for asylum in some cases, a bold reversal of Bush Administration actions in which they attempted to deport such women anyway.

Changing U.S. asylum policy in this way is not just more humane and less blindingly idiotic, it would resolve a conflict with existing law covering foreign women married to American men. In order to resolve situations in which American men would abuse their foreign-born wives and yet be able to blackmail them with their immigration status into remaining in a relationship, the Violence Against Women Act allows foreign-born women in abusive relationships to qualify for green cards without having to stay with their abusers. Changing asylum policy would grant foreign women seeking escape in our country a similar opportunity.

Of course, the change in policy doesn't mean either woman will get to stay in the United States — and the courts have been increasing hostile to asylum applications since 9/11. But at least it's a start.

New Policy Permits Asylum for Battered Women [NY Times]

Related: Documents and Information on Rody Alvarado's Claim for Asylum in the U.S. [Center for Gender and Refugee Studies]