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August 16, 2004

Asylum News 30

Attorney General Poised to Decide if US will Protect Rodi Alvarado

Bipartisan Support for Woman Who Fled Horrific Domestic Violence

Urge Ashcroft to Grant Asylum

Attorney General John Ashcroft is poised to rule on the asylum case of Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who fled ten years of brutal violence at the hands of her husband after her country’s government ignored her repeated requests for help.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, over 100 Senators and members of Congress, and a broad range of faith-based, human rights, women’s rights and civil rights groups have urged the Attorney General to protect Rodi Alvarado and women who have suffered similar horrific violence and persecution.

The Stakes for Rodi Alvarado – Decision Looming

Rodi Alvarado fled Guatemala after suffering years of violence and abuse. She was repeatedly beaten by her husband and brutally attacked when he learned that she was pregnant. Ms. Alvarado has suffered nearly ten years of separation from her children while awaiting a final decision to be made on her case. The Attorney General has decided to issue a decision himself in this historic case, and since all the legal briefs have been submitted, he could issue his decision at any time.

The Attorney General should act now, without further delay, to finally end the suffering that Ms. Alvarado has endured for nearly 20 years. The Attorney General himself acknowledged, in January 2004, that Rodi’s “application for asylum has been pending for several years and it is important to move toward resolution of the legal issues involved.” Ms. Alvarado has waited long enough for her fate in the U.S. to be decided.

Human Rights First is concerned that Attorney General Ashcroft may deny Ms. Alvarado’s claim for asylum, particularly since he has taken the extraordinary step of announcing that he will issue a decision himself in this case. A denial of her claim would not only affect Ms. Alvarado’s fate, but it could also prevent other women who have fled from violence, sexual slavery, honor killings, and other persecution from receiving protection in the United States.

Ms. Alvarado’s case, and its implications for other women and girls, has sparked a tremendous amount of attention and bipartisan support. The Department of Homeland Security, in its brief, recommended that Ms. Alvarado be granted asylum and stated that it plans to issue regulations soon that will provide guidance in cases involving similar issues. Over 100 Senators and members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have written to the Attorney General urging him to grant asylum to Ms. Alvarado.

Conservative groups, such as World Relief and Concerned Women for America, as well as a range of faith-based groups, have urged the Attorney General to grant asylum to Ms. Alvarado. So too have human rights and civil liberties groups, including Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union, domestic violence organizations, women’s rights groups, and refugee and immigrant assistance organizations.

The Legal Background

An immigration judge ruled in 1996 that Ms. Alvarado merited asylum; the judge ruled that her husband had inflicted severe abuse and that she was unable to seek protection from the Guatemalan government. But the U.S. 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 proposed to create a new rule that would clarify that victims of domestic violence and other gender-related persecution are eligible for asylum. However, these proposed regulations were never finalized.

On March 19, 2003, the BIA notified Ms. Alvarado’s attorney that the Attorney General had decided to rule on the case himself. 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 over the years. The Attorney General initially denied this request, but subsequently changed his mind after members of Congress and the public weighed in to support Ms. Alvarado.

Ms. Alvarado is represented by Karen Musalo, from the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of Law. Over 90 organizations (including Human Rights First) joined in a legal brief, written by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and Greater Boston Legal Services, which supported Ms. Alvarado’s claim for refuge.

Urge Ashcroft to Grant Asylum

Attorney General Ashcroft should make a decision on the fate of Rodi Alvarado without further delay. As the 10th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act approaches on September 13 and 14, the Department of Justice has an excellent opportunity to solidify its commitment to the protection of women by granting protection not only to Rodi Alvarado but to other women and girls fleeing violence.

Join people across the country and write to Attorney General Ashcroft and the White House to urge them to grant Rodi Alvarado asylum immediately and to preserve asylum for women and girls fleeing horrific violence and persecution.

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