Tags: abused | guatemalan | woman

White House Favors Asylum for Abused Woman

By Dan Weil   |   Friday, 30 Oct 2009 09:39 AM

The White House has given its seal of approval for an abused Guatemalan woman to be granted asylum after arguing her case since 1995.

The woman Rody Alvarado Pena fled severe beatings from her husband. The Obama administration’s decision indicates it may allow widespread immigration of women suffering from domestic abuse.

After 14 years of legal proceedings, with Alvarado’s case juggled by immigration courts and three attorneys general, the Homeland Security Department paved her way to asylum Wednesday.

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It filed a one-paragraph document in a San Francisco immigration court stating Alvarado “is eligible for asylum and merits a grant of asylum as a matter of discretion.”

An immigration judge must still approve asylum, but Alvarado’s lawyer Karen Musalo told The New York Times that with the White House’s move, the judge will almost certainly approve the claim.

Perhaps the biggest legal issue raised by the Alvarado case is whether women who suffer domestic abuse belong to a “particular social group” that has faced persecution, one prerequisite for asylum claims.

In another asylum case this year, the Homeland Security Department indicated several ways that abused women could meet this standard.

Alvarado’s lawyers argued that under those guidelines Alvarado did meet the standard. And now the department has agreed, perhaps making the case a model for future asylum claims.

But department officials were cautious in looking at ramifications of this case. The department “continues to view domestic violence as a possible basis for asylum,” department spokesman Matthew Chandler told The Times.

But these cases continue to depend on the specific abuse, and the department is writing regulations to deal with them, he said.

More women like Alvarado should be granted asylum, argue Musalo, who is director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

“Violence against women and girls is a global crisis. . . . Every day, there are ‘honor’ killings, acid attacks, bride burnings, and horrific domestic and sexual violence worldwide,” they write in The Washington Post.

“It's time we put our regulatory house in order and assured victims of gender-based violence that they can count on justice in the United States.”

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