Monday, July 20, 2009

Gender-Based Persecution And Asylum

A piece in the Washington Post discusses the problem of women who seek asylum in the United States on the basis gender-based persecution in their home countries:

Rody Alvarado Peña, a victim of brutal domestic violence in her native Guatemala, sought refuge in the United States in 1995. An immigration court judge granted her asylum the next year, but almost 14 years later Rody remains in limbo. She is working in a convent in California and hoping that the Obama administration will finally resolve her case and take steps to protect women who flee their countries to escape certain death from gender-based violence.

The administration recently sent a positive signal about these types of cases, but it needs to do much more. The plight of Alvarado Peña -- an indisputably peaceful woman at risk for deportation -- underscores both the dysfunction in our immigration system and the fact that our nation's promise of mercy and refuge is still applied erratically, even capriciously.

Nobody disputes the facts of this case. At age 16, Alvarado Peña married a career soldier. He raped and beat her with abandon, breaking mirrors over her head, causing a miscarriage by kicking her until she hemorrhaged and viciously beating her until she lost consciousness. With divorce impossible without her husband's consent, and no shelters or supports available, Alvarado Peña fled to the United States.

Initially, she was granted asylum, but because a dispute continues over whether gender-based persecution is a basis for asylum, the Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed the case. A few years later, the Board of Immigration Appeals, the nation's highest immigration court, denied her asylum. The judges did not dispute what had happened to Alvarado Peña, and they recognized her husband's violence as "deplorable." Still, they found no basis in law to grant Alvarado Peña asylum.

Read the whole article as they say. I'm skating on thin ice here (due to not knowing the field very well), but it's my impression that the problem is how persecution is defined. If it is by the government of a country then the law grants a reason for granting asylum. If it is something the home country of the woman just condones or tolerates in general (say, by having laws against wife-beating on the books but not enforcing them) then there is no basis for political asylum.

I may be wrong about this and welcome more information. And discussion, of course.