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Give Me Your Tired ... and Abused?

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Should a victim of domestic violence in another country be granted asylum in the United States - broadening yet again the scope of who finds refuge in the US?

The Bush administration, apparently, doesn't want to answer this tough question. The Department of Justice has been stalling for years over a precedent-setting case, and the administration has been holding back anticipated guidelines which would bring needed clarity to asylum law, and with that, consistent treatment of these cases.

It's easy to understand why. With an estimated 8 to 10 million illegal immigrants in the US, and terrorists eager to enter, the mood is anything but supportive of an expanded definition of who qualifies for asylum protection.

That definition has stretched considerably since it was first set down in the 1951 United Nations Refugee convention. Although the categories of qualifying refugees were broad (those who have a well-founded fear of persecution for their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion), the interpretation was narrow.

In the wake of World War II, the convention was applied mostly to political dissidents in communist nations, or people who risked state persecution should they return home. Now, asylum seekers make claims based on fear of persecution for refusing to join a gang, for instance, or to wear the veil in an Islamic country. Grounds for asylum have evolved beyond state-sponsored persecution.

Throwing a commonplace abuse like domestic violence into the mix raises the "floodgates" question. If the administration comes out with guidelines favorable to victims of domestic violence, will throngs respond? Is it the job of the US to protect everyone in the world from violence?

But there's another legitimate view of this issue. At its core, the Refugee convention relates to human rights, and the world's understanding of that subject has evolved over the decades. In 1993, for instance, the US began recognizing gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum.


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