From the LA Times:
Attorney General John Ashcroft is reconsidering a Clinton administration policy that was designed to make it easier for victims of domestic abuse to gain political asylum in the United States, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed Thursday.
Officials insist that Ashcroft has not made up his mind, but women’s groups and lobbyists for immigrants said they fear he will reverse the policy.
That, they say, would doom many women who have fled to the United States seeking refuge from domestic abuse, the threat of honor killings or sexual slavery in their home countries.
Generally, I try to remember that in any debate, people on all sides of the debate are arguing for policies they believe will bring about good outcomes for all. We may see radically different paths to the goal, but we all share a goal of a world in which everyone is well-fed and free and not subject to violence and abuse.
Usually I even believe that. But it’s hard to account for stories like this without thinking that Ashcroft is just malicious.
Further on in the same article, we hear the arguments for not granting asylum, which are either insincere or concocted by idiots:
But those on the other side of debates over immigration policy argue that the Alvarado case improperly extended asylum to cover people threatened by private individuals, rather than by government officials.
“If we make political asylum based on family issues, sexual preference issues, other general issues, it eventually opens the door to everybody in the world who is unhappy with where they happen to be,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
So the first argument is a public/private distinction: asylum is only for people threatened by government officials, not private individuals. However, the distinction between public and private is artificial, because how free “private individuals” are to threaten people is determined by public policy. If the country of Freedonia has no official policy against Jews, but also refused to protect Jews against anti-Semitic violence, declaring such violence “a private matter,” everyone would recognize it as an anti-Semitic government in action.
Governments act not only directly, but also by withholding action. When basic government services – like police protection from violence – is withheld from a particular group, that’s state action against that group. This is just as true when police decide it’s not their business to interfere with sexual trafficking, or with “private” problems of battered women, as it is when Rwandan police decide not to interfere with “private individual” Hutus massacring private individual Tutsis. It is governmental bigotry translated into non-action.
The second argument is a slippery slope argument: If we allow people into the country for personal matters, soon judges will be letting everyone in, for any sort of unhappiness.
One unstated premise of this argument is the (in this case) false distinction between personal matters and public policy, which I’ve already discussed; when a battered woman can’t get effective government protection, that is a matter of public policy.
The second unstated – but utterly disgusting – premise is that violence that happens to women – “domestic abuse, the threat of honor killings or sexual slavery” – is a petty, unimportant, private matter. These women aren’t victims of vicious, deadly discrimination; they’re just, in the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s charming words, people “unhappy with where they happen to be.”
To understand why the “slippery slope” argument is nonsense, it’s necessary to provide a little context. Janet Reno proposed rules to (in the Washington Post‘s words) “allow battered women to be granted asylum as members of a social group if they can show government complicity in their suffering.” Reno was responding to the case of Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who was granted asylum during the Clinton administration. What was Ms. Alvarado fleeing from?
In 1984, at the age of 16, she married Francisco Osorio, a former soldier, who was five years her senior. Almost immediately after they were married, her husband began to threaten her, and to carry out violent assaults. Those assaults continued without respite over a ten year marriage. Osorio raped and sodomized Rodi, broke windows and mirrors with her head, dislocated her jaw, and tried to abort her child by kicking her violently in the spine. Besides using his hands and his feet against her, he also resorted to weapons — pistol-whipping her, and terrorizing her with his machete.
Rodi’s repeated attempts to obtain protection failed. The police and the courts refused to intervene because it was a “domestic” matter. When she ran away, Osorio found her and beat her unconscious. He told her that she could never get away from him, because he would “cut off her arms and legs, and…leave her in a wheelchair, if she ever tried to leave him.”
Okay, with that in mind, let’s return to the slippery slope argument. According to this argument, anyone who’s “unhappy” where they are will be able to claim refugee status. Why? Because, I presume, FAIR thinks American judges are such drooling morons that they’re incapable of distinguishing a case like Ms. Alvarado’s and someone who’s unhappy with the weather conditions where they live.
Because, you know, wanting to escape constant rapes, beatings, and death threats is just a case of some whiny woman who’s “unhappy with where they happen to be.” Who could tell the difference? Certainly not a judge.
One more comment on that “slippery slope” argument; if that slope is so slippery, why hasn’t it caused a problem in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand? All those countries offer asylum to victims of gender-based violence, and haven’t experienced the collapse of the asylum system nay-sayers in the US are predicting.
Incidentally, one possible outcome of Ashcroft’s “reconsideration” of Reno’s policy is that Ms. Alvarado will be sent back to Guatemala, where her husband has stated he plans to kill her. What a silly, whiny woman, unhappy to be in Guatemala.
An easy action you can take right now
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights has set up an easy-to-use form, for sending letters to Ashcroft. Please use the form and “urge him not to issue final regulations that reject gender-related violence as a basis for asylum.”
Update: TalkLeft has also posted on the issue, including important information on the appointment process, which you should be certain to read. From TalkLeft:
Ashcroft has decided to halve the number of appointees on the Board of Immigration Appeals, from 23 to 11. The Washington Post article today states that all five BIA members Ashcroft has dropped in accord with his planned reduction are Clinton administration appointees and three were dissenters in the Alvarado case. [...]
The board handles 30,000 – 40,000 cases a year. It is the last resort for most immigrants facing deportation, as only a few thousand have been able to appeal to the federal courts. In January, there was strong criticism of the board because in attempting to reduce its backlog as Ashcroft directed, it was deciding cases literally within minutes. As T. Alexander Aleinikoff, a law professor at Georgetown University and former Immigration and Naturalization Service general counsel said “We are already seeing results: Many, many cases are decided at a speed that makes it impossible to believe they got the scrutiny a person who faces removal from the United States deserves.”