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Friday, February 5, 2010

FROM THE HEALTHRIGHT BLOG: Rodi Alvarado Granted Asylum

The following post was originally published on Field Notes - The Blog of HealthRight International.

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The case of Rodi Alvarado, a woman from Guatemala who suffered ten long years of domestic violence, has come to an end, with the Department of Justice finally granting Ms. Alvarado asylum in the United States. For many years, the United States government did not consider battered women eligible for asylum because they could not show persecution on specific grounds such as race, political opinion, ethnicity or religion. Ms. Alvarado’s case is significant because the decision to grant her asylum was based on that of domestic violence, usually an inadequate ground for claim in asylum cases in the United States.

Shortly after their wedding, Ms. Alvarado’s husband, a former soldier in the Guatemalan army, began to beat and sexually assault her almost daily. An immigration judge who reviewed Ms. Alvarado’s case in 1996 confirmed her claims that the beatings included waking Ms. Alvarado in the middle of her sleep to whip her with an electrical cord, threatening to cut off her arms and legs with a machete if she were to try to leave him, and breaking windows and mirrors with her head. Ms. Alvarado’s testimony revealed that upon finding out that she could be pregnant, her husband dislocated her jaw and kicked her when she refused to abort, which resulted in bleeding that lasted for eight days. She searched for any help she could find, unsuccessfully turning to the Guatemalan police numerous times. She even pleaded her case to a judge who claimed he could not help her.

In 1995, after ten years of intense abuse and suffering, Ms. Alvarado decided to flee Guatemala, leaving her two children behind, and seek asylum in the United States. Her request for asylum was granted in 1996 by an immigration judge but was appealed by the government shortly after. In 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered that Ms. Alvarado be deported back to Guatemala. This decision resulted in a nationwide campaign in support of Ms. Alvarado, which led to the reevaluation of the case by Janet Reno, the Attorney General at the time.

In 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft took on the case. The organization Concerned Women for America stated in a letter to General Ashcroft that “to give refuge to such a woman as this is exactly what our asylum policy exists for, and to turn her away would be an act of pointless cruelty.”

In an interview for the PBS production “Destination America,” Ms. Alvarado was asked if she thought domestic violence would decrease in Guatemala if her application were accepted and Guatemalan men realized that women had an alternative to suffering abuse. She responded that the United States and other countries “have to use their influence to pressure the government of Guatemala to protect women.” Information on the PBS story is available here.

In December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security finally agreed to grant asylum to Ms. Rodi Alvarado. Following the decision, the Obama administration stated their intention to revamp asylum regulations to include domestic abuse as a reason to grant asylum, representing a historic and long awaited step forward.

Click here to learn more about HealthRight’s Human Rights Clinic, which works to support survivors of torture and other human rights abuses – including domestic violence – seeking asylum in the U.S.

- YAEL RAMER