Obama may be opening the door to millions of asylum applicants

Update July 21st:  For readers wanting more details on this decision by the Obama Administration, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has a discussion with links here (scroll down to the third item).  Hat tip:  Paul

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

The Obama administration has opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States. The action reverses a Bush administration stance in a protracted and passionate legal battle over the possibilities for battered women to become refugees.

In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.

The case that is in question is that of a Mexican woman seeking asylum, fearful of being murdered by her common-law husband. He forced her to live with him, stole her salary, repeatedly raped her at gunpoint and tried to kill her. Last year Bush administration officials argued in court that her case did not meet the legal standard for asylum. Now the Obama administration is reversing that stance.

The question of asylum for battered women has been around since 1996, when

a Guatemalan woman named Rody Alvarado was granted asylum by an immigration court, based on her account of repeated beatings by her husband. Three years later, an immigration appeals court overturned Ms. Alvarado’s asylum, saying she was not part of any persecuted group under American law.  

Apparently that case is not yet resolved.

Since then Ms. Alvarado’s case has stalled as successive administrations debated the issue, with immigration officials reluctant to open a floodgate of asylum petitions from battered women across the globe. During the Clinton administration, Attorney General Janet Reno proposed regulations to clarify the matter, but they have never gone into effect. In a briefing paper in 2004, lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security raised the possibility of asylum for victims of domestic violence, but the Bush administration never put that into practice in immigration court, Professor Musalo said.

Now Homeland Security officials say they are returning to views the department put forward in 2004, refining them to draw conditions sufficiently narrow that battered women would prevail in only a limited number cases.

It’s a thorny problem. Whose heart doesn’t go out to a woman with a story like the Mexican asylum seeker? But domestic violence (what a sterile term!) and sexual abuse are so common around the world that, as Phyllis Chesler points out,

Fellow Americans: Prepare to receive the entire female population of Pakistan sometime soon. And that’s just for starters. I don’t oppose this—but I honestly don’t know if we can economically afford to do it. Given the recession/depression, I rather doubt we can. But get ready for something like this to happen anyway.

…. Studies show that 50-90% of Pakistani women are routinely beaten, even when they are pregnant, and that daughter-beating and wife-beating are not considered crimes. Pakistani men will sometimes publicly gang-rape a young girl in order to falsely “avenge” another crime committed by a member of their own clan; be-head, throw acid at, or burn alive a girl or woman who has offended their family or political-religious honor; they will marry a ten-year-old daughter to a fifty-year-old man in order to settle a debt, or to receive a small sum of money. In Pakistan, most honor killings of girls and women are not prosecuted either. In one study, my own, first published in Middle East Quarterly, almost half the honor murders perpetrated in the West were perpetrated by Pakistani men or Pakistani families.

 Even if Homeland Security drew narrow guidelines, there would still be plenty of eligible women just in Pakistan, and many more in other Muslim countries, plus those in other countries. Chesler seems to be suggesting that it would be a good idea to open our doors to battered women, but not their batterers, if we weren’t in a recession. She makes this excellent point:

Male domestic violence is a global phenomenon. Why single out one country—isn’t that “racist” or “Islamophobic” and doesn’t that suggest that all Pakistani Muslims are batterers or tend to batter women more than, let’s say, Christian-American men do?

But they do. They are trained to do so. Their culture has normalized woman-battering while the Big Bad West has actually gone and criminalized it, tried to shelter its victims and prosecute their persecutors. True, we have done so rather late in the day and in an imperfect way. But this level of progress does not exist in the Arab Middle East, Africa, or central Asia where even honor murders are accepted, rarely reported as such, even more rarely prosecuted, and where reduced sentences apply to this but to no other crime.

I’m sorry, Phyllis, and I’m terribly sorry for all those women, but it would be impossible to provide asylum to the millions of deserving women around the world. Of course, just because it’s impossible doesn’t mean Obama mightn’t try to do it. Not because he’s such a great humanitarian, but because it would overload the system and cause that much more chaos.

This issue bears watching.

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