Leaders of Harvard Refugee Clinic Provided Key Amicus Brief

Post Date: January 24, 2005

Following Friday’s decision by the Department of Justice to allow Rodi Alvarado Pena, a Guatamalan woman, to remain in the United States, leaders of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic offered cautious praise. Alvarado requested asylum to escape domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Although domestic violence is not typically sufficient as a basis for securing asylum, Attorney General John Aschroft ordered that the case be remanded to the Board of Immigration for further consideration.

“While we are disappointed that Attorney General Ashcroft did not follow the full recommendation of the Department of Homeland Security, and grant Ms. Alvarado permanent asylum as he absolutely should have, we are encouraged that a basic regulatory framework — at least in proposed form — has been established which may allow for a principled approach to this issue,” said Nancy Kelly and Deborah Anker of Harvard’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic’s Women’s Refugee Project, in a joint statement. “It is critical that women victims of violence be treated fairly and evenhandedly under U.S. law.”

According to Anker, many had feared that Ashcroft was poised to deny the claim. Instead, like former Attorney General Janet Reno before him, Aschroft decided to allow the case to be remanded in light of pending regulations by the Department of Homeland Security. The regulations, proposed in 2001, would allow Alvarado’s asylum claim and lay the groundwork for other women to obtain asylum protection based on gender as a perceived “immutable” characteristic — one of the grounds for asylum protection under U.S. and international law.

Kelly and Anker filed an amicus brief, signed by over 200 leading academics and organizations, urging the Ashcroft to grant asylum to Alvarado. The Harvard Clinic’s Women Refugee Project drafted Gender Asylum Guidelines, adopted by the U.S. government a decade ago, which paved the way for the current regulatory approach, and established the underlying principles of U.S gender asylum law.

A broad coalition of organizations signed the Women Refugees Project’s amicus brief and have supported Alvarado’s efforts to obtain asylum. These organizations include the Center for Refugee Studies, Human Rights First and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, as well as Amnesty International-USA, the National Immigration, the Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women & Children, and the Women’s Division of Human Rights Watch.

According to Anker, there is broad, bipartisan support for granting asylum to Alvarado, including from many conservative organizations and Republican officeholders such as Concerned Women for America, World Relief, and U.S. Senators Sam Brownback, Susan Collins, Mike DeWine, and Olympia Snow.