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Ashcroft declines to resolve asylum case of battered woman

WASHINGTON—Attorney General John Ashcroft will leave office without deciding the celebrated asylum case of a battered woman that he's had under review for two years, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Instead, Ashcroft has sent the case of Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who suffered 10 years of beatings by her husband, back to the Board of Immigration Appeals, where the issue was pending when he intervened in 2003.

Ashcroft wants the Justice and Homeland Security departments to come up with rules covering asylum claims for domestic abuse before the Alvarado case is resolved, Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said Friday.

One of Alvarado's advocates, Eleanor Acer, said Ashcroft's decision was "good news and bad news" because there had been some speculation last year that he would decide against her.

"But it's disappointing because it leaves her still in limbo, after the Justice Department had two years to resolve this," said Acer, who heads the asylum program for the legal group Human Rights First.

More than 100 members of Congress have written Ashcroft urging asylum, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Human rights organizations and conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and World Relief, an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, also have backed Alvarado's cause.

The Department of Homeland Security recommended last year that Alvarado, a 37-year-old maid working in a San Francisco convent, be granted asylum. Officials criticized the Guatemalan government and courts for ignoring her complaints about repeated beatings.

Alvarado's case has followed a convoluted chronology as it became a possible precedent for other abused women to seek refuge in the United States. Some officials said they were worried that asylum in her case might encourage a flood of similar cases.

Advocates hope the case will have similar impact to a 1996 one in which a woman was granted asylum because she suffered genital mutilation.

Alvarado fled to the United States 10 years ago and was granted asylum by an immigration judge who found her story of persistent, brutal attacks by her husband credible.

But in 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative review panel, reversed that decision.

Attorney General Janet Reno intervened and ordered immigration officials to draw up regulations that would make victims of domestic abuse eligible for asylum.

Reno left office before the rules were completed, and Ashcroft decided to take the case.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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