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February 20, 2003

Asylum News 11

Refugee Women at Risk: Proposed Justice Department Regulations would Eliminate Gender-Based Violence as a Basis for Obtaining Asylum in the U.S.

Attorney General John Ashcroft is reportedly planning to issue new asylum regulations which will severely limit the ability of women fleeing trafficking, sexual slavery, honor killing, domestic violence, and other gender-related human rights abuses from seeking asylum in the United States. It appears that there is an intention to issue the final regulations before March 1, when the INS transitions into the new Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice loses jurisdiction over this particular issue.

The regulations originated with the case of Ms. Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan survivor of severe domestic violence who obtained asylum only to face a reversal of that decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Then Attorney General Janet Reno intervened and proposed regulations securing Ms. Alvardo’s asylum status and more broadly recognizing gender-related asylum claims. Reno’s proposed regulations never became final, however, and there are reports that Attorney General Ashcroft is planning to re-instate the initial BIA decision which denied Ms. Alvarado asylum because her abuse was not perpetrated by a government, and because she was an individual and not a member of a “social group.”

Although Human Rights First has not seen a draft of the new regulations, we believe that they will likely result not only in Ms. Alvarado’s return to danger in Guatemala, but in a nation-wide change in policy and law that will negatively impact all women and girls seeking asylum on gender-related claims.

Human Rights First is also concerned that language included in the regulations may deny refugee protection to members of particular social groups fleeing violence perpetrated by non-state actors.

Please write to Attorney General Ashcroft and urge him not to issue final regulations that reject gender-related violence as a basis for asylum.