CGRS serves women, children, LGBT, and other refugees fleeing gender-based violence and other harms. These forms of persecution include forced marriage, female genital cutting, human trafficking, forced prostitution, honor killing, domestic violence, child abuse, incest, and rape. An estimated one in three women will be physically and/or sexually abused in her lifetime, a rate that is even higher in certain regions of the world. Like women, children and LGBT individuals are also subject to high rates of violence: an estimated 25-50% of the world’s children have reported being physically abused, and 78 countries worldwide have legislation criminalizing same sex acts. Tragically, gender-based persecution is often committed with impunity in refugee-producing countries, yet is not adequately recognized as a basis for asylum by the governments of many refugee-receiving countries. Claims for asylum protection by children and LGBT individuals also face particular challenges.
CGRS envisions a world where no one is subject to persecution because of his or her gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or membership in a family or other social group. We push the United States and other refugee-receiving countries to recognize gender-based persecution and to grant asylum to its survivors. At the same time, we work with our international partners to end the epidemic of gender-based violence that forces these individuals to fear for their lives to such an extent that they flee their homes, often leaving everything familiar to them behind.
A Few CGRS Success Stories
Rody Alvarado. A Guatemalan native, Rody suffered severe, life-threatening beatings and sexual violence at the hands of her husband. This abuse went on for ten years. Despite her efforts, no useful help came to Rody from Guatemalan law enforcement. Terrified for her life, Rody was forced to leave her children behind when she fled to the United States. In the U.S., a new ordeal awaited. For 13 years, Rody remained in limbo as her case wound through the asylum system with CGRS Director Karen Musalo as her attorney. She was finally granted asylum in 2009 and now lives without fear in the U.S. Her case has opened the door for other women fleeing horrific domestic violence.
Fauziya Kassindja. Fauziya fled Togo at age 17 to escape female genital cutting, a traditional practice that subjects women and girls to partial or complete removal of their genital organs. The procedure is often performed with un-sterilized equipment and can lead to lifelong health complications, including difficulties with pregnancy and childbirth, as well as cause psychological and sexual trauma. Fauziya opposed this practice and fled to the United States, the only way she knew how to evade it. After being held in detention, Fauziya was told by an Immigration judge that fear of female genital cutting did not constitute grounds for asylum. CGRS Director Karen Musalo led the legal team which took on Fauziya’s representation, and argued her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals, winning a landmark decision that broke new ground in the developing jurisprudence of gender-based asylum claims. The case continues to serve as the foundation for the still evolving U.S. and international movements to recognize gender violence as a basis for asylum.
Abebe Family. Mr. Mengistu and Ms. Abebe are Ethiopian natives who fled the country due to Mr. Mengistu’s political beliefs, which opposed the repressive regime. After giving birth to a daughter in the U.S. they feared returning to Ethiopia even more, knowing that their child would be subjected to female genital cutting. For Ms. Abebe - who endured female genital cutting as an infant and suffered her entire life as a result – and Mr. Mengistu – who was well aware of his wife’s physical and psychological scars – female genital cutting of their daughter would be torturous. Mr. Mengistu and Ms. Abebe knew that in the unlikely event they were able to shield their daughter from the practice, they would nevertheless suffer isolation and persecution from their families. They had been denied asylum by the Immigration Court, the Board of Appeals and a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when CGRS became involved, at the invitation of the Abebe family’s attorney Philip Hornik. Working together they persuaded the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case en banc, where they won an important legal victory. The Ninth Circuit sent the case back to the immigration court which eventually granted asylum.