US Takes Step to Offer Political Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence

8 years ago

For almost 15 years, Rody Alvarado Peña fought to stay in the United States. She fled here seeking asylum after suffering from horrific abuse at the hands of her husband. To save her life, she had to leave her two children with her parents. Her hope was that once she established herself in the US, they could join her. Instead, she found herself caught in a legal debate over whether domestic violence is a legitimate claim for asylum seekers. On October 30, 2009, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration recommended that Ms. Alvarado be granted asylum.

While Ms. Alvarado was relieved that she could remain, she also mentioned that it was hard to wait fourteen years for a final decision. Her case has been deemed by legal experts to be "the iconic case of domestic abuse as a basis for asylum,” and the Times notes that the one-paragraph document filed by the Obama administration in immigration court in San Francisco is "a major step toward clarifying a murky area of asylum law and defining the legal grounds on which battered and sexually abused women in foreign countries could seek protection here." Hopefully, other women in Ms. Alvarado's situation will not have to spend more than a decade in their attempts to be granted asylum as a result.

Women bloggers welcomed the announcement. Marie at Every Day Is a Miracle wrote, "Finally, an option for women fleeing domestic abuse in other countries." Other bloggers noted that Ms. Alvarado's case follows a move from the Obama administration back in July 2009, when "the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered an immigration judge to further review the case of a battered Mexican woman who filed a petition for asylum in California," according to Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes at Feet in 2 Worlds.

Even with these two precedents, it is not going to be easy for women fleeing domestic violence to secure asylum in the US. Rachel Browning's Legal Blog explains the process in detail. Reading it made my eyes hurt, and reminded me how glad I am that I dropped out of law school on my third day of class. I am all the more appreciative of the people who take these critical cases on!

The new openness for providing a safe haven for women suffering from domestic violence is great. However, as inesv reminds readers at community Feministing:

This legal/symbolic maneuver obscures the disregard that this country has for domestic violence within its borders and particularly, the women who are victims of domestic violence. Further, it suggests domestic violence is "cultural," that is, a practice of backward societies, not something that would happen in the United States. Meanwhile, an estimated thirdof women murdered in the United States were killed by an intimate partner (the statistic is for 2005). For those interested in a discussion of this rhetorical strategy see philosopher Uma Narayan's discussion of "death by culture" in her 1997 book.

What with all the pink ribbon corporate craziness going on in October, it is sometimes hard to remember that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. The fact that the Obama administration came through for women in violent relationships in other countries during that month is excellent. Now let's remember that we need to offer safe havens and eliminate domestic violence here, too.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. She is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, a book about unusual things to see and do in NYC.

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