- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

Legal briefs submitted to Attorney General John Ashcroft by immigration and human rights groups calling for the granting of political asylum to women who are the victims of severe domestic abuse in their home countries remain under consideration.

The briefs were offered as part of a pending asylum case involving Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan immigrant who suffered near-fatal beatings at the hands of her Guatemalan soldier husband, Francisco Osorio, over a 10-year period before she fled in 1995 to San Francisco, leaving her two children behind.

Mrs. Alvarado, 36, has argued in a pending immigration appeal that her forced return by the United States to Guatemala would result in continued beatings from her husband, because police and court authorities in that country were not willing to offer her protection.

Mr. Ashcroft, who currently is at George Washington University Hospital recovering from serious gallbladder surgery, has not said when he might make a decision in the case, although his spokesman, Mark Corallo, confirmed yesterday that the matter remains under review.

Earlier this month, Mr. Ashcroft told a Senate committee he was “certifying” the Alvarado case to himself to issue a new decision under his own name. He added that his office was working with Secretary Tom Ridge in the Department of Homeland Security.

Lawyers at Homeland Security filed a 43-page brief in support of asylum for Mrs. Alvarado on Feb. 19, which also has been forwarded to Mr. Ashcroft. Before the creation of Homeland Security, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) opposed asylum in the Alvarado case. INS later was merged into Homeland Security.

In September 1996, a San Francisco immigration judge granted her political asylum, but INS appealed the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which reversed the decision in June 1999 in a 10-5 vote. The board then ordered that she be deported to Guatemala. That decision later was appealed.

Briefs drafted by the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic in the case were signed by several groups, including the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the National Organization for Women, the Concerned Women for America and the International Rescue Committee, along with various Catholic, Jewish and Protestant church organizations.

Former Attorney General Janet Reno drafted new rules for immigration judges prior to her leaving office in 2000 saying that some forms of domestic violence against women could constitute persecution, which would qualify them for asylum under existing U.S. immigration law. The proposed rules. however, were never finalized.

Britain and Australia currently grant asylum to women who can show they were the victims of severe domestic abuse in their home countries.

The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, which has investigated the Alvarado case, said assaults on the woman began almost immediately after they were married and continued without respite over a 10-year period. The center said she was raped and sodomized, that her head was used to break windows and mirrors, and that she was pistol-whipped and assaulted with a machete.

During her immigration hearing in 1995, Mrs. Alvarado said that her husband had sworn to “hunt her down and kill her” if she returned to Guatemala.

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