The Honorable John D. Ashcroft
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:
On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), we write to express our concern about the prospective issuance of a final rule that may reinstate the vacated decision in Matter of R-A-, Int. Dec. 3403 (BIA 1999) and which, as a result, may drastically undermine the ability of women to receive protection under our nation’s asylum laws. We urge you to refrain from reversing current policy, which appropriately provides women who have fled violence with a safe haven once they have satisfied the rigorous requirements of the current asylum rules.
As an institution committed to civil rights, LCCR has spoken out on issues affecting the rights of immigrants because our nation’s immigration laws have far too often been used as weapons against the weakest and least popular members of our society. In the past, immigrants were targeted by racist enactments such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the National Origins Act. While our country has made great strides in other aspects of civil rights, unfortunately our immigration laws today continue to single out especially vulnerable populations ? in this case women and girls ? and subject them to unfair treatment.
In Matter of R-A-, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that Ms. Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who had suffered ten years of horrific domestic violence at the hands of her husband, and whose government would not protect her, could not seek refuge under U.S. asylum laws. Former Attorney General Janet Reno vacated the BIA’s decision, and the INS shortly thereafter issued a proposed rule which clarified that domestic violence and other forms of gender-related persecution could in fact form the basis of an asylum claim.
LCCR supports the Attorney General’s action in Matter of R-A-, and we believe that her decision should stand. We were therefore alarmed to learn that the Department now plans to issue a final rule that will revisit the issues raised in the case, and that a new decision will soon be handed down reinstating the BIA’s original denial of asylum to Ms. Alvarado While we have not seen a draft of the final rule, we are particularly concerned that it, as its content has been reported to us, will severely limit the ability of women and girls to seek protection from trafficking, sexual slavery, honor killings, domestic violence and other gross human rights violations whenever such abuses have been perpetrated by non-state actors.
We believe the issuance of such a rule would have drastic negative consequences for Ms. Alvarado and would also establish an unfortunate precedent in U.S. law, precluding protection to women in a wide range of cases where their gender is a central reason that they suffer severe violations of their rights. In addition, such a rule would contravene established principles of international law including United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines on gender persecution and would be out of step with the policies of countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, which recognize that government-tolerated violence based on gender can form the basis for asylum.
For these reasons, we urge you to not reinstate the BIA’s decision in Matter of R-A-, and to refrain from issuing any regulations that would unduly limit the ability of women to seek refuge under our asylum laws. Thank you for your attention to our concerns.
Dr. Dorothy I. Height