The iconic words inscribed at the feet of Lady Liberty, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", have never before reflected the foreign policy practices of the United States. Between the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1990 Immigration Act, actions of legislators have seemingly contradicted the welcoming sentiment described on the Statue of Liberty. Until now.
With the announcement of the Obama administration's new policy that offers asylum to foreign victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, the White House is finally breathing some life into those thirteen words carved in to stone.
The Department of Homeland Security's new position on granting asylum is a welcome step away from the neglectful policy of former president George W. Bush. Bush maintained that being a victim - of beatings, rape, and other torture inflicted by an intimate partner - was alone not enough to warrant a claim for asylum. President Obama has reversed this pernicious argument, deciding that forms of domestic violence can be acknowledged as forms of persecution.
Certainly, the treatment from her common-law husband that one Mexican woman, identified only as L.R. in her appeal to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, faced would, in most circles, be considered persecution. In her testimony, L.R. recalls being forced to have sex with her abuser, often at gun-point. She remembers when her husband found out she was pregnant and doused her sleeping form with kerosene and tried to light her on fire. She also recounts the time she attempted to flee her husband, seeking a judge's help for emancipation. Instead, he tried to seduce her.
It is comforting to see the United States take a firm stand against this gender-based violence. L.R.'s horrific circumstances are not unlike what many women face everyday in their home countries. The United Nations estimates that at least one in three women will be subject to some form of abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. Those who fear a mass influx of foreign victims should not let these qualms determine their opposition. Although the administration is reviewing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as eligible to receive asylum, not all victims will be allowed access to the United States. Asylum seekers will still need to comply with the strict immigration laws that we currently maintain. In addition, victims seeking asylum will have to prove that they are treated as subordinate, no better than property, and that the sort of behavior and actions they are constantly subjected to is widely accepted in their home country. Moreover, applicants will need to verify that they could not find relief from their abuser through institutions in their own country, or by relocating to another location within their region. For many, asylum into the U.S. will be the final option.
Last October, the harrowing tale of L.R.'s ordeal would still not have been enough to allow her entry into the United States. Like many other immigrants, she would have been deported back to her native Mexico, the very place she fled fearing for her life. Now, under the new policy, L.R.'s case will be reheard and she will be given the chance to live a life free from fear.
The possibility for asylum gives these women, faced with the horror of being abused at the hands of someone they once trusted and loved, a new chance at life. The Obama administration is on the right track "" by allowing persecuted women to apply for asylum, lives will be saved. The United States can reaffirm its reputation as a beacon of hope and security for all. The Statue of Liberty will once again welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses. Finally those masses can include battered women.