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May 07, 2003

Asylum News 14

Update: Refugee Women Still at Risk

Urge Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft to Refrain from Limiting Asylum for Women who Fear Gender-related Persecution; Urge Ashcroft to Rule in Favor of Rodi Alvarado

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As a result of the recent transfer of former INS immigration functions from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Secretary Tom Ridge now has the authority to issue regulations, initially drafted by the Department of Justice, that could severely limit asylum for women fleeing trafficking, sexual slavery, honor killing, domestic violence, and other gender-related human rights abuses. Secretary Ridge can also choose to reject these regulations, and to instead take steps to preserve the right of women to receive asylum in these cases.

Since reports of Attorney General Ashcroft’s plan to limit gender-based asylum were first revealed in February 2003, many organizations, individuals and members of Congress have written to the Attorney General to express their concern. These and other developments are detailed below. Given the transfer of immigration functions to DHS, it is now critically important to contact Secretary Ridge, in addition to Attorney General Ashcroft, to urge that the right of women to receive asylum based on gender-related persecution be preserved.

Background

In a prior newsletter issued in February, Human Rights First advised that the Attorney General was reported to be planning to issue a new decision in the case of domestic abuse survivor Rodi Alvarado and to issue regulations that would limit the ability of women fleeing gender-related human rights abuses to receive asylum in the United States. Other organizations and coalitions also worked to circulate information and raise awareness about this potential change of law.

Ms. Rodi Alvarado , a Guatemalan survivor of severe domestic violence, had been granted asylum by an immigration judge only to have that decision reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in 1999. Then Attorney General Reno vacated the BIA decision to deny asylum to Ms. Alvarado and issued proposed regulations clarifying that victims of domestic violence and other gender-related persecution are eligible for asylum. However, those proposed regulations never became final.

Responses to the Attorney General’s Plans to Limit Asylum

After learning of Attorney General Ashcroft’s plan to issue new regulations that would limit asylum for women, organizations and individuals around the country began writing to the Attorney General to express their concern. Through an action component on Human Rights First’s website, more than 1300 individuals have written or emailed the Attorney General. Many organizations concerned with women’s rights, domestic violence issues, and refugee rights have written to the Attorney General. To learn more about some of these efforts, you can visit the website of the The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings College of Law.

A bi-partisan group of nearly seventy congressmen and women under the leadership of Congressman Meeks (D-NY) sent letters to Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft expressing their concern. They urged Secretary Ridge to refrain from issuing regulations that would reject gender-related violence as a basis for asylum in the United States. In addition, Senator Leahy (D-VT) wrote a letter to Ashcroft urging him to not to reinstate the BIA’s denial of asylum because Ms. Alvarado ’s life would be in jeopardy if she was forced to return to Guatemala.

Action Needed Now

On March 19, 2003, the BIA notified Ms. Alvarado ’s attorneys that the Attorney General had re-certified the case to himself. (The recertification had occurred on February 21, though Ms. Alvarado’s attorneys were not notified until March 19.) This means that the Attorney General could issue a decision in Ms. Alvarado’s case at any time.

While it was initially reported that the Attorney General would attempt to issue the new regulations prior to the March 2003 transfer of INS immigration functions from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General concluded that despite the transfer of these immigration functions, he would continue to retain a role in the issuance of regulations even after the March transfer. Because of the transfer however, Secretary Ridge now has a significant role in the formulation of regulations relating to asylum.

As a result, it is critically important to write to Secretary Ridge – in addition to Attorney General Ashcroft – to express concern. So even if you have already written to the Attorney General, please take time to now contact Secretary Ridge as well.

Ms. Alvarado and many like her are still in jeopardy.

Please write to Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft and urge them to preserve asylum for women who suffer gender-related violence.

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