Here's a note for the "to do" list of the Obama Administration's newly appointed Domestic Violence Czar - or Czarina in this case: Battered wives and significant others pose a serious law enforcement and public health problem affecting as many as one in four women in this country. But they are not just an American problem. Women are being whacked all over the world. And some of them are trying to find safety in America - and are being turned away.
Why? Because of the inept and bureaucratic foot-dragging of our Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. Thanks to their sorry non-performance over more than a decade, domestic violence is still not a legal basis for seeking asylum in the U.S.
Consider the plight of Rodi Alvarado from Guatemala. At 16, she married a man who, for the next decade, terrorized her. He raped and sodomized her almost daily, beating her before and during the violations. Because he was unfaithful, he infected her with sexually transmitted diseases. He dislocated her jaw when he learned that her period was late, and violently kicked her when she refused to abort her baby, causing her to bleed for eight days.
She tried to run away, even to the other side of the country, but her husband - a former soldier - always found her. One night, he woke her to whip her with an electrical cord, pulled out a machete and threatened to cut off her arms and legs if she ever tried to leave him again. He broke windows and mirrors with her head. He pistol-whipped and threw a machete at her, punched her and dragged her by her hair.
Mrs. Alvarado repeatedly sought help from the police in Guatemala, but to no avail. She pled her case to a judge, but the judge said the same thing: They don't involve themselves in domestic matters.
Finally, in 1995, she did the most difficult and desperate thing she could do to save her life. After 10 years of cruelty, at age 28, she fled Guatemala and sought asylum in the United States.
There was only one problem. The U.S. has no asylum provisions that cover victims of domestic violence. Mrs. Alvarado was ordered deported. Under U.S. law, asylum applicants have to show they can't go home because they face persecution because of religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. But not domestic abuse.
Enter a sympathetic immigration judge, who granted Mrs. Alvarado a temporary stay of deportation. That was in 1996 - thirteen years ago. And for thirteen years, Mrs. Alvarado has remained in this legal limbo. She hasn't been deported - she works as a housekeeper in a California convent. But she can't achieve any legal status and can't be reunited with her son and daughter, who remain in Guatemala. She hasn't seen them in thirteen years.
The reason: For more than a decade, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have been playing musical chairs with a new asylum regulation that would cover victims of domestic violence. Without such a regulation, Mrs. Alvarado's case cannot come before a Board of Immigration Appeals, which is supposed to re-decide her fate.
The musical chairs have bounced Mrs. Alvarado's case from the Clinton to the Bush administrations, and now to the Obama Administration.
Opponents said new asylum rules would lead to a surge in claims, an assertion disputed by a large and bipartisan group of immigration, legal and religious advocates.