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[Congressional Record: February 14, 2001 (Senate)]
[Page S1388]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

                      ASYLUM AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, before leaving office, Attorney General 
Reno ordered the Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider its 
decision to reject the asylum claim of a Guatemalan domestic violence 
victim. I applaud the former Attorney General for her actions in this 
case, entitled Matter of R.A., and I encourage the Bush Administration 
to continue with her efforts to provide a safe harbor for victims of 
severe domestic abuse.
  The facts of the R.A. case are chilling. Ms. Rodi Alvarado Pena 
sought asylum after suffering from unthinkable abuse at the hands of 
her husband in her native Guatemala, abuse that ended only when she 
escaped to the United States in 1995. She said that her husband raped 
and pistol-whipped her, and beat her unconscious in front of her 
children. She said that law enforcement authorities in Guatemala told 
her that they would not protect her from violent crimes committed 
against her by her husband. And she believed that her husband would 
kill her if she returned to Guatemala.
  The INS did not dispute what Ms. Pena said, and in 1996, an 
immigration judge determined that she was entitled to asylum. But in 
1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals (``BIA'') reversed that decision 
on the grounds that even if everything Ms. Pena said were true, she did 
not qualify for asylum because victims of domestic abuse do not 
constitute a ``social group'' under existing law. This decision seemed 
to me and a number of other Senators and Representatives to be 
inconsistent with previous decisions extending asylum to victims of 
sexual abuse. I wrote Doris Meissner, then the Commissioner of the INS, 
in August 1999 to express my concerns about the case. I joined a group 
of Senators writing Attorney General Reno about this matter in November 
1999, and raised those concerns again in letters to the Attorney 
General in February and September 2000. Finally, I reiterated my 
concerns to Ms. Meissner in August 2000.
  The Justice Department released a proposed rule in December that 
would make it easier for women to base asylum petitions on gender-based 
persecution. Then-Attorney General Reno's January 19 order stays the 
R.A. case until a final version of that rule is approved, at which time 
the BIA will reconsider the case in light of that rule. I urge the Bush 
Administration to approve a final rule that provides strong protections 
for victims of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based 
oppression. And I urge the BIA to apply that rule in a way that 
provides the maximum protection for such women.
  The United States should have--and I believe does have--a bipartisan 
commitment to refugees. I have been joined by Republicans such as 
Senators Brownback and Jeffords in my attempts to draw attention to 
this case. And I am optimistic that the Bush Administration will share 
our concerns. No one wants to see a victim of domestic violence 
returned to face further abuse, especially where her government does 
not have the will or ability to protect her. Working together, and 
building on the foundation laid by Attorney General Reno, we can 
prevent that from happening.


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