A Glimmer of Hope in US Asylum Recommendation

I first started following the story of Rody Alvarado in July.  She is a woman who has shown great perseverance and courage in fleeing her abusive husband in Guatemala.  According to court records, she was married to her husband when she was sixteen, and she became pregnant shortly after.  Because her husband wished to induce an abortion, he beat her to the point of dislocating her jaw.  Additionally, she reported instances in which her husband broke mirrors and windows with her head in addition to repeatedly punching, slapping, and kicking her.  After enduring the violence for ten years, she fled to the United States to seek asylum.

She is not the only woman with this story.  Another woman, identified only as L.R., was severely abused by her common-law husband in Mexico whom she was first assaulted by when she was a teenager in a high school where he coached P.E. classes. He coerced her into living with him, repeatedly raping her at gunpoint and threatening to harm her sister’s children. Her life was also threatened when she became pregnant; her husband soaked her bed with kerosene while she was sleeping and lit it on fire.  She too eventually fled to the U.S. in search of protection and asylum.

According to U.S. asylum policy, seekers must prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution if they are returned to their countries by virtue of being a member of a particular race, religion, nationality, social groups, or having a certain political opinion.  While some argue that women fleeing domestic violence are adequately able to seek asylum by being a member of a particular social group, many argue that the current policy does not afford enough protection for gender-related concerns.  It does not seem likely that the actual policy will change, but important precedents can be set in offering asylum to women fleeing gender-related persecution.

Such a precedent was recently set in the case of Rody Alvarado.  When she brought her case forth for asylum initially, she won, but her victory was overturned in an appeals court.  The Attorney General then threw out the appeals court decision, but she did not grant Ms. Alvarado asylum. Finally, the Obama administration recently recommended asylum for Ms. Alvarado’s case.  While she has not formally been granted asylum yet, she most likely will be.  However, although she will likely win this battle, the time that it has taken has caused her to lose something very precious: her children.  Because she couldn’t take her children with her when she fled, they were raised by her husband’s parents.  Her escape from abuse is therefore bittersweet as it came at the loss of time spent with her children.  However, assuming that she is granted asylum, this would set an important precedent in recognizing that women do comprise a particular social group which is vulnerable to violence and persecution.  There is definitely still work to be done, but I, for one, am proud of the step my country has made towards offering women like Ms. Alvarado and L.R. protection from horrific violence. Hopefully, this precedent will facilitate in quicker resolution of asylum cases involving domestic violence so the women involved will not sustain such great personal losses and will be better able to gain healing and peace of mind.

For more information on Rody Alvarado and L.R.’s stories, check out:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/30/us/30asylum.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=asylum&st=cse,http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/us/16asylum.html?scp=3&sq=asylum&st=cse

—by AK

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