Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

The mission of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) is to protect the fundamental human rights of refugees and immigrants with a focus on women, children, and LGBT individuals. In 1999, following her groundbreaking legal victory in Matter of Kasinga, CGRS Director and Professor Karen Musalo founded CGRS to meet the needs of asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence. Fauziya Kassindja, a young woman from Togo, fled to the United States to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage to a much older man. Building on the momentum from the Kasinga decision—the first precedent decision to recognize gender-based persecution as deserving of asylum—CGRS strategically combined the use of impact litigation with media attention, national grassroots advocacy, and technical assistance and training for attorneys to successfully expand protections available to refugee women.

In keeping with the overarching goal to extend refugee protections to de-valued and under-recognized groups, our mission soon grew to embrace advocacy for the rights of child refugees and LGBT asylum seekers. CGRS is now an established nationwide leader on asylum issues affecting women, children, and LGBT individuals. In the past year alone, we provided expert consultation, mentoring, and litigation resources in over 1,700 cases. Our goals include achieving grants of protection in individual cases and developing refugee law in a manner that ensures recognition of gender-based and children’s claims, consistent with international norms.

THE CASE: Recently CGRS, working in coordination with other advocacy groups and private counsel, secured a huge victory in the landmark decision Matter of A-R-C-G-. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in A-R-C-G- formally recognized for the first time that domestic violence can serve as the basis for asylum. CGRS laid the groundwork for A-R-C-G- not only directly through an influential amicus brief filed with the BIA, but also through years of painstaking work in every pivotal gender-based asylum case considered by the BIA, from Kasinga onward, and in countless individual cases.

As part of an overall strategy to build upon the landmark A-R-C-G- ruling, we will litigate a domestic violence case, which we refer to herein as Matter of A-, pending before the Eloy Immigration Court in Arizona. We believe that this individual case in one of the nation’s most hostile immigration courts will make a meaningful difference for detained women who seek protection from domestic violence. Our involvement will also contribute toward positive precedent and an expansive application of A-R-C-G- in the immigration courts.

The Eloy Immigration Court hears the cases of women refugees who are detained at the nearby Eloy Detention Center. We will seek to ensure that immigration judges and government attorneys engage in fair and correct application of A-R-C-G- within the Eloy jurisdiction, where judges have among the highest denial rates in the nation.

Together, the four Eloy immigration judges average over 94% denials in asylum cases, notwithstanding a nationwide denial rate of only ~50% in asylum cases. Both the University of Arizona and a local legal services provider, the Florence Project, have alerted us that the high denial rates apply also to women raising domestic violence claims, even following A-R-C-G-. Both groups have requested that we mentor and assist attorneys representing women in detention at Eloy.

With the support of this request, we plan to co-counsel in Matter of A-, a case currently pending before an Eloy immigration judge, who has a denial rate of 94% (among the highest in the nation), and to develop through that case model pleadings and a legal strategy that can be used in other Eloy cases. CGRS will also aim to represent women before each of the three other Eloy immigration judges, who likewise decide cases of detained women and who also have extremely high 94+% denial rates.

Previously, CGRS was instrumental in ensuring proper treatment of domestic violence asylum claims for women and children detained at Artesia, New Mexico prior to the closing of that family detention facility. CGRS co-counseled the first two immigration court cases of women detainees raising domestic violence claims at Artesia, and wrote an amicus brief for the third woman’s case. Intervening in this focused way at an early stage strongly influenced the outcome of later gender cases. Advocates won the vast majority of merits hearings out of Artesia before its closure: a total of 15 asylum grants by immigration judges.