Will the U.S. Offer Asylum to Battered Women?

Edited by Robin Silberman

Is the U.S. going to be flooded by maltreated women after having given shelter to a Guatemalan?

In 1984, Rodi Alvarado Peña, at 16, got married to a former soldier. She did not expect that her life would turn into hell on earth. Throughout ten years of marriage, she was raped regularly. Her husband kept infecting her with STDs, and when she got pregnant, he tried to provoke a miscarriage by kicking her.

The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies in San Francisco reported that Alvarado’s husband broke windows and mirrors with her head and dislocated her jaw. Not only did he beat her with his hands, but he also used a pistol and machete to threaten her.

The woman repeatedly sought help with the local authorities, who did not intervene, claiming that they would not interfere in marital squabbles. Alvarado tried to flee from home, but her husband had no difficulty tracking her down. When he found her, he was even more ruthless than usual: He beat her into unconsciousness. He threatened that if she tried to escape again, he would cut off her hands and legs. In 1995, Rodi managed to get through to the United States, where she sought asylum.

“I never lost hope, God never abandoned me,” the deeply religious Alvarado told The Associated Press. Then, after almost 15 years of fighting in court, she heard last week that she can legally stay in the United States.

Would thousands of women from all over the world follow her footsteps? Barack Obama’s administration is crafting regulations that could open the door to the United States for other victims, for the first time recognizing domestic violence as a factor in qualifying for political asylum.

So far, asylum has been granted to those persecuted by their governments, suffering because of their race, religion, nationality, political views or membership within a particular social group. The New York Times is suggesting that Alvarado belonged to “a particular social group,” as she was one of the thousands of maltreated women who could not count on their government’s help.*

American authorities noticed problems of people like Alvarado a long time ago. The drafting of regulations began in 2000, but they have not been completed so far. Why? The case is causing controversy among organizations calling for the sealing of borders, with fear that crowds of women from other parts of the world would flood the United States.

“How are asylum authorities going to substantiate these claims (…) of domestic violence?” asked Ira Mehlman from the Federation for American Immigration Reform. She is convinced that the new regulations would force officials to get involved in the personal relationships of people and that asylum law is not designed to deal with such cases.

*Editor’s Note: The New York Times editorial about Alvarado can be found here:

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