First, why is ILW.COM publishing word one from FAIR? I wholly support balanced reporting from people with different viewpoints, but certainly not from an organization with a history of misrepresenting numbers and inflaming public opinion with baseless rhetoric Limbaugh-style. Integrity in journalism does not require you to give space to other voices just for the sake of hearing them rant. It requires giving space to legitimate writers with reasoned and differing opinions who are not biased by ultra-restrictionist, sexist, racist, and classist motives.
Though I am no fan of Spencer Abraham, and I was delighted to see him defeated by Debbie Stabenow, in the 2000 election FAIR disgracefully circulated outrageous pictures of Senator Abraham with a known terrorist-- I believe Osama bin Laden if memory serves. Their tactics are reprehensible and for ILW.COM to give them web-space is quite puzzling.
Second, only a sexist could define women's lives as "ideological 'mission creep.'" If you were to replace "women" with the Somali Bantu or Serbian Muslims, his arguments would receive the immediate (and warranted) charge of racism. Given Mr. Hethmon's association with the restrictionist FAIR, he may very well favor denials to these groups as well. BIA's decision of Matter of R-A- only serves to display the majority's appalling inability to understand domestic violence, and based on Mr. Hethmon's article, it appears that he fails to "get it" as well. Domestic violence victims are not members of a social group solely by virtue of their persecution, as he claims is the argument of the applicant in R-A-. No, as Mr. Hethmon demands, the inverse is actually the case: DV victims are persecuted precisely because they are a member of a social group--women. If you read the briefs, you would see very clearly that domestic violence victims quite plainly meet both tests of being a "recognized segment of the population" and are "understood to be a societal faction."
Finally, once again, Mr. Hethmon reveals his complete disrespect for refugee women by referring to them as "collateral consequences." Does he know why the majority of women seek refuge in the countries he's listed? Simple geography, Mr. Hethmon. The fact that they flee to societies as repressive as their own does not discount their membership in a social group. Their flight merely reflects their desperation. We do not and should not base our humanitarian goals of asylum law on what may happen in the future should we recognize gender asylum claims as viable. Using the example of Saudi Arabian withdrawal from conventions is a disingenuous argument. Whether they are in or out, their treatment of refugees- of all its citizens, especially women-- is still unacceptable. I can say one thing for sure, though: denying women asylum in the U.S. is certainly not going to make Saudi Arabia or any other such odious regime start reflecting on their human rights sins and suddenly become a beacon of humanitarianism.
Perhaps, if the international community were to "attack" (I would choose to say "challenge", Mr. Hethmon's very use of the charged word "attack" shows he does view such states and their treatment of women as legitimate. Perhaps if he were a woman living in such a society-or even in this society for that matter- he'd have second thoughts about accepting such repression as merely "cultural") the legitimacy of such states, 52% of the population on Earth would be able to enjoy life without fear. Mr. Hethmon, notwithstanding his lip service, cares more for his "lofty" arguments and legal acrobatics than a refugee woman's true fear and real experience of persecution.
We should base our laws on legal precedence and what is fair and just under the Constitution and laws of Congress. It is not a leap of jurisprudence to recognize women as a social group. The premise at issue in gender asylum laws is basic. By analogy, if a black national from South Africa came to the US during apartheid, he would have a very clear claim of asylum under both race (naturally social group, and/or political opinion would also apply, but for purposes of my argument, race is the most analogous). Yet, if a woman came from Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, she would have no such protection, even though gender is every bit as immutable as race. Yet, sexism, the last bastion of bigotry, prevents people such as Mr. Hethmon from seeing the two "isms" on the same continuum of hatred and persecution. Women are treated as the mules of the world, and they certainly don't need Mr. Hethmon's philosophy when they are face to face with US asylum law and a return to their country is tantamount to a death sentence.
Mr. Hethmon may be right on one issue--although I do believe that women as a social group is on strong legal ground-- perhaps a better answer does exist. The truly equitable solution would be to add gender as a sixth recognizable category in asylum law. Women are targeted and persecuted because they are women, whether the persecution involves attempted murder, torture, domestic violence, FGM, rape, or rape as a weapon of war. They deserve the protection of asylum law on the basis of the immutable characteristic of gender, the characteristic for which they are persecuted (as distinguished from Mr. Hethmon's red-herring discrimination argument), on the same level of someone who is persecuted on the basis of race or national origin.
Marisa A. DeFranco, Esq.
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