A Well-Founded Fear: The Congressional Battle to Save Political Asylum in America

A Well-Founded Fear: The Congressional Battle to Save Political Asylum in America

A Well-Founded Fear: The Congressional Battle to Save Political Asylum in America

A Well-Founded Fear: The Congressional Battle to Save Political Asylum in America


In 1996, powerful anti-immigrant forces in Newt Gingrich's 104th Congress worked hard to pass the most restrictive immigration laws in decades. The new law has changed virtually every aspect of immmigration policy, including the rules for political and religious refugees. However, the law is not as harsh as the chairmen of the immigration committees would have wanted. A fascinating case study of the legislative process and the author's experiences as a public interest lobbyist, A Well-Founded Fear tells how a coalition of human rights and refugee organizations fought to preserve the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.


Mary Rawson, a teacher and mother, lived in a small town in an African country. As a teacher, she came face to face with hungry, half naked, and anemic children who dropped out of school when they became too ill to attend or could no longer pay the required fees. She watched children in her Sunday School class die from malnutrition and preventable childhood diseases such as malaria, cholera, and typhoid fever. She discussed the condition of these children with other members of her women’s group and pointed out the need for the government to be more involved in its citizens’ survival and the quality of their lives. Gradually, the women perceived that the government was not doing what it should to promote the safety, education, and well-being of children. They agreed that the government should be pressured to provide children with free vaccines, free elementary education, and clean drinking water.

Feeling a strong need to improve the prospects for these children, Ms. Rawson started a larger organization devoted to children and their rights. Representatives from this group addressed large crowds of people, spoke to heads of villages, and disseminated copies of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the government had ratified but not implemented.

As anchorwoman of a weekly radio talk show for children, Ms. Rawson became more prominent, and she fell under the eye of her government’s security forces. She was periodically arrested, questioned, and released. These experiences only deepened her commitment to her work.

She helped to organize a three-day training session on children’s advocacy in the nation’s capital. The U.S. Embassy sent observers. The meeting seemed very successful, but when she got into a taxicab to return to her hotel, the taxi driver took off in the wrong direction. “Where are you going?” she asked. “We are going to get there,” the driver reassured her. But the taxi drove to an unfamiliar neighborhood, where men pulled her out of the car and pushed her into a building. Inside, uniformed men tied her to a rack and turned her upside down, her skirt spilling over her head. The men beat her arms, her legs, and the soles of her feet with plastic hoses, while cursing, threatening, and mocking her.

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