[Stop-traffic] News/US: Reno voids denial of asylum for Guatemalan battered wife

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Reno voids denial of asylum for Guatemalan battered wife
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Jan 24 2001 - 18:27:11 EST

Reno voids denial of asylum for Guatemalan battered wife
By Susan Sachs
The New York Times, January 20, 2001

In one of her last acts as attorney general, Janet Reno yesterday voided an
immigration panel's ruling that denied political asylum to a Guatemalan
woman who fled her country to escape an abusive husband.

The decision was immediately hailed as a boon for other women who are
seeking asylum in the United States on grounds that they were persecuted
because of their sex.

"It erases the one major precedent that had been an obstacle to the
granting of those cases," said Karen Musalo, a professor at the University
of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

In her order, Ms. Reno vacated a 1999 decision by the Board of Immigration
Appeals concerning the Guatemalan woman, Rodi Alvarado Peņa, whose case has
become a rallying point for many women's advocates in New York and across
the country.

While acknowledging that Mrs. Alvarado had suffered appalling beatings at
the hands of her husband, the judges on the appeals board said that she did
not qualify for political asylum as a member of a persecuted group. They
denied her request to remain in the United States. Mrs. Alvarado has
appealed the decision in federal court and is living in California while
her case is pending.

Her lawyers had argued that Mrs. Alvarado was a member of a persecuted
social class by virtue of being a woman in a patriarchal culture that
tolerated violence against women.

Similar arguments have been made on behalf of foreign women who flee
countries where female genital mutilation is practiced, where men are
excused for killing female relatives who are sexually active, and where men
have the legal right to prevent a female relative from traveling.

Immigration judges have sometimes granted asylum to women who suffered
abuse or feared abuse in such countries. But their rulings have not been

Ms. Musalo said the Alvarado ruling two years ago significantly shifted the
debate because it established new and more stringent criteria for abused
women seeking asylum.

The decision by Ms. Reno to vacate that ruling, Ms. Musalo added, could
help other women whose cases were still pending before immigration judges.
"This brings us back to the body of law that existed before," she said.

Mrs. Alvarado's quest for a haven is not over. The Board of Immigration
Appeals will now reconsider her request for asylum, although possibly
according to different ground rules.

In her one-paragraph order, Ms. Reno directed the board to wait until
federal rules on gender-based asylum claims were finalized and to
reconsider the case in light of those rules.

In December, the Immigration and Naturalization Service asked for public
comment on proposed rules for deciding asylum requests from women who say
they are victims of domestic violence. At the time, the agency said it
wanted to make it easier for abused women to qualify for asylum.

The rules are not final and it is not clear whether the immigration agency,
under the new leadership of the Bush administration, will ultimately adopt
Melanie Orhant

Stop-Traffic Moderator

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