Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Quick hit: Obama administration expands gender-based asylum

There are times when I am incredibly proud of our new administration, and this is one of them. The NYT reports that the Obama administration has opened the way for women seeking asylum in the United States on the basis of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The Bush administration, as you may guess, was less sympathetic to gender-based refugee claims. From the NYT: "The administration laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico who requested asylum, saying she feared she would be murdered by her common-law husband there. According to court documents filed in San Francisco, the man repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her captive, stole from her and at one point tried to burn her alive when he learned she was pregnant."

It seems pretty obvious that this is a legitimate claim for asylum, but the U.S. has been less than open when it comes to gender-based violence claims. In 1996, a Guatemalan woman named Rody Alvarado was granted asylum after repeated severe beatings by her husband, but the ruling was overturned by an immigration appeals court, saying that she was not part of any persecuted group (once again, I think of Catharine MacKinnon's question, "are women human?"). Immigration officers have claimed that expansion of gender-based asylum would result in a flood of female refugees. This new policy is a great step forward, although it does not include women fleeing female genital mutilation.


At July 17, 2009 at 4:18 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

It is clear that George Bush did not believe women to be human. I'm glad that Obama, even though he has shown himself to be a stooge of the Patriarchy in such matters as gay rights, at least has the ovaries to stand up to the Patriarchy in this regard.

At July 20, 2009 at 9:21 PM , Anonymous novaseeker said...

It's quite telling that the test case appears to be that of a Mexican woman whose asylum petition is pending in San Francisco. If that case is successful under the new standard, you may as well forget about walls and so on along the Mexican border. Mexican women will soon be seeking asylum from their "oppressive" country by the millions.

I'm certainly not an advocate of physical domestic violence, and it's clearly the case that many women in various parts of the world are abused physically.

But is this really an issue of asylum?

Asylum has traditionally been restricted to political and ethnic oppression -- the kind of thing that is systematic and applied by the state in an official or quasi-official way. It strikes me as being quite marginal to apply asylum rules to women who are being beaten by their husbands, and not the state. It's a bad thing that they are being beaten, but that doesn't entitle them to asylum. The state is not doing it, after all.

In many ways this new policy strikes me as cultural imperialism of the worst sort. Essentially, it is saying that even in cases where state or quasi-state action is not involved, we have concluded that some cultures are inferior to ours in their view of women, and based on that fact, will grant asylum to women from these countries as if they were political prisoners.

The fact that this comes from the Department of Homeland Security only makes it more of a farce. These are the people that are supposed to be protecting us from threats, not yapping at other cultures about the supposedly superior treatment of women in American society. Ironically, it's many of the same people who are critical of American foreign policy as "imperialistic" and dismissive of other cultures who are supporting something like this, which basically disses numerous cultures around the world simply because they are not feminist.


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