Post Date: February 4, 2004

The Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services is filing a friend of the court brief this week asking the U.S. attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security to treat women refugees seeking asylum protection fairly and consistently with its own rules and precedents. The clinic is submitting the brief in the case of Rodi Alvarado, a woman who is facing deportation back to Guatemala after suffering 10 years of human rights violations by her husband from which the Guatemalan government did not protect her. The brief, endorsed by more than 100 scholars, law professors and organizations, maintains that the violence and Guatemalan government’s failure to protect is grounded in Alvarado’s gender and her status as a married woman.

The brief asks the attorney general and DHS to grant asylum protection, citing established principles of U.S. and international law. Four years ago the DHS (then Immigration and Naturalization Service) issued proposed regulations recognizing that women could obtain this basic human rights protection, including in cases of violence in the home, when they suffer discrimination because they are women. Twenty years ago, the brief notes, the Justice Department came to the same basic conclusion—that discrimination based on status, including sex, could be the basis for asylum protection.

“Our brief asks the U.S. government now to stand by this position—not to backtrack,” said Deborah Anker, director of the clinic.

The Harvard clinic and Greater Boston Legal Services’ women’s refugee project were responsible for the first steps forward for women asylum seekers in the U.S., drafting gender guidelines adopted by the U.S. government in 1995.

“The United States must maintain its position and leadership in this area, and the Department of Homeland Security has an opportunity to show that it takes seriously the ‘protection’ part of its mission,” said Nancy Kelly, a clinic supervisor and attorney at GBLS. “Our refugee law should be consistent with those of our major international friends and partners, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.”

The organizations that have signed on to the brief range from religious organizations such as Jesuit Refugee Services and the United States Catholic Conference to dozens of national and local U.S. human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights First. A coalition of organizations assisting women survivors of family violence also is party to the brief.