Attorney General John Ashcroft is reconsidering a case that could have far-reaching implications for using gender-based persecution and violence as a basis for granting asylum to refugees, according to the Los Angeles Times. Though officials insist that nothing has been decided, women’s and human rights groups are worried that the Attorney General intends to limit women’s ability to flee domestic abuse, sexual violence, honor killings, and other gender-related abuses.
The case Ashcroft is reviewing is that of a Guatemalan woman, Rodi Alvadaro, who fled her country after ten years of abuse at the hands of her husband, including being raped, whipped with electrical cords, and threatened with death, according to the Washington Post. Alvarado was granted political asylum in 1996, which was then challenged by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and repealed by the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in 1999, the Post reports. The INS did not challenge the veracity of Alvarado’s story of abuse or her claims that Guatemalan authorities repeatedly refused to protect her from her husband–rather, the INS argued that domestic abuse did not qualify her for political asylum, according to the Post.
Under President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno proposed regulations allowing gender-based human rights abuses to serve as a basis for asylum; however, the regulations were never finalized. Now Ashcroft has taken it upon himself to decide not only Alvarado’s appeal but also the fate of gender-based political asylum. The Post also reports that five members of the BIA, all Clinton appointees, have been notified they are being dropped from the board as part of an overall reduction in the board’s size. Three of the five voted in favor of Alvarado’s asylum request.