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January 03, 2004

Asylum News 23

Briefing Deadline Approaching on Leading Gender-based Asylum Case

Attorney General to rule after filing of briefs Wide range of organizations support asylum for women who flee gender-based persecution

Take Action!

Urge Attorney General Ashcroft to Rule in Favor of Rodi Alvarado and Urge Secretary Ridge to Ensure Protection of Refugee Women

On Thursday, February 19, 2004, briefs are due in the asylum case of Rodi Alvarado, a survivor of severe domestic abuse from Guatemala. The case is currently pending before Attorney General John Ashcroft, following his decision to certify the case to himself for review. There is widespread concern that the Attorney General intends to limit asylum for women who flee from gender-based persecution. In addition to a brief filed by Ms. Alvarado’s attorneys at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings School of Law, a brief will be filed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which took over the functions of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) last year.

As detailed below, Attorney General Ashcroft may soon be ruling in Ms. Alvarado’s case and the Department of Homeland Security will be submitting its brief next week. So please take action now.

Diverse Groups Support Asylum Grant

On Friday, February 13, an amici curie brief will be filed, in support of Ms. Alvarado’s asylum eligibility, on behalf of a wide range of almost 100 human rights, women’s rights and faith based organizations, as well as almost 100 law professors. That brief, drafted by the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services, urges the Attorney General to uphold the immigration judge’s decision to grant Rodi Alvarado asylum and cites to established principles of U.S. and international law. Human rights and humanitarian organizations including Human Rights First, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Rescue Committee as well as faith based groups including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Presbyterian Church USA and World Relief (the human service arm of the National Association of Evangelicals) have signed on to the amicus brief.

A wide range of diverse organizations concerned with women’s issues are also urging that the Attorney General rule in favor of Ms. Alvarado. These groups include the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, as well as conservative groups like Concerned Women for America which urged Attorney General Ashcroft in a letter supporting a grant of asylum to Ms. Alvarado “[t]o give refuge to such a woman as this is exactly what our asylum policy exists for, and to turn her away would be an act of pointless cruelty.”

Background

Rodi Alvarado’s immigration status has been in limbo since she fled Guatemala in 1995 to escape repeated and severe domestic abuse. Although an immigration judge granted her asylum after finding that her husband had inflicted severe abuse and that she was unable to seek protection from the Guatemalan government, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reversed the immigration judge’s decision in 1999. Then Attorney General Reno vacated the BIA decision to deny asylum to Ms. Alvarado and the former INS issued proposed regulations clarifying that victims of domestic violence and other gender-related persecution are eligible for asylum. However, these proposed regulations never became final.

On March 19, 2003, the BIA notified Ms. Alvarado’s attorney’s that the Attorney General had re-certified the case to himself. After the case was recertified, Ms. Alvarado’s attorneys requested that the Attorney General allow the parties to re-brief the case since a significant amount of time had elapsed and there had been changes in the law since the initial briefing. The Attorney General initially denied this request. Many individuals and organizations urged that the Attorney General reverse his decision and allow briefing. On November 4, 2003, 62 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Attorney General urging him to grant Ms. Alvarado’s attorney’s request and permit the parties to file new briefs.

See http://www.humanrightsfirst.orgwp-content/uploads/pdf/Briefing_letter110403.pdf. 

On December 9, 2003, the Attorney General reversed his position and allowed the parties to file briefs.

What is Next? Take Action!

At some point, after the briefs are submitted, the Attorney General will rule on Ms. Alvarado’s case. His decision will also impact the ability of other women who have suffered gender-based harms – like honor killings, domestic violence, trafficking -- to receive asylum in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has taken over INS functions, may also be issuing final regulations relating to gender-based asylum. It is not clear what role the Department of Justice will have in these regulations, given that INS functions were transferred from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security.

Write in to urge that the briefs submitted by the Department of Homeland Security, the decision issued by the Attorney General and the regulations ultimately issued all respect the right of women who have fled from gender-based harms to receive asylum in the United States – and to urge that the immigration judge’s decision to grant asylum to Rodi Alvarado be upheld.

Take Action Now!

Urge Attorney General Ashcroft to Rule in Favor of Rodi Alvarado and Urge Secretary Ridge to Ensure Protection of Refugee Women: http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/Protect_Women_Refugees

For more information on this issue, go to:
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/asylum/asylum_02.htm

More information on Asylum in the U.S.

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