Guatemalan Refugee can stay in US, but this battered woman is “given no asylum”

( '? note -- how long can this go on???
Battered woman not given asylum, but can stay here

Ashcroft wants rules drafted to cover domestic abuse claims before deciding


January 22, 2005

WASHINGTON – A Guatemalan refugee who is the focus of a long-running debate over asylum for battered women will be allowed to remain in the United States, the Homeland Security Department decided yesterday.

The case of Rodi Alvarado Pena had been in the hands of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said two years ago he would decide her fate. Yesterday, he opted neither to grant nor deny asylum to Alvarado, who came to the United States 10 years ago to escape repeated beatings from her husband, a former soldier.

After Ashcroft's decision, Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger said even if Alvarado ultimately is denied asylum, "the Department of Homeland Security will not pursue her removal from the United States."

Ashcroft wants the Justice and Homeland Security departments to come up with rules covering asylum claims for domestic abuse before the Alvarado case is resolved, Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said yesterday.

One of Alvarado's advocates, Eleanor Acer, who heads the asylum program for the legal group Human Rights First, said Ashcroft's decision was "good news and bad news" because there had been some speculation last year that he would decide against her.

Karen Musalo, Alvarado's California-based lawyer, said the decision is only a partial victory because her client still cannot be reunited with her children, who remain in Guatemala.

People granted asylum have the right to bring their children to the United States, Musalo said.

More than 100 members of Congress have written Ashcroft urging asylum, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Human rights organizations and conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and World Relief, an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, also have backed Alvarado's cause.

The Department of Homeland Security recommended last year that Alvarado, a 37-year-old maid working in a San Francisco convent, be granted asylum. Officials criticized the Guatemalan government and courts for ignoring her complaints about repeated beatings.

Alvarado's case has followed a convoluted chronology as it became a possible precedent for other abused women to seek refuge in the United States. Some officials said they were worried that asylum in her case might encourage a flood of similar cases.

Advocates hope her case will have impact similar to a 1996 one in which a woman was granted asylum because she suffered genital mutilation.

Alvarado fled to the United States 10 years ago and was granted asylum by an immigration judge who found her story of persistent, brutal attacks by her husband credible.

But in 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative review panel, reversed that decision.

Attorney General Janet Reno intervened and ordered immigration officials to draw up regulations that would make victims of domestic abuse eligible for asylum.

Reno left office before the rules were completed, and Ashcroft decided to take the case.

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