Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and Brooklyn College Awarded Prestigious Multi-Year National Science Foundation Grant

Thursday, February 11, 2016


This week, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) at UC Hastings, together with the City University of New York Brooklyn College (CUNY), was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for a collaborative research project in law and social sciences. The study will examine decision-making processes in U.S. immigration courts via a multi-method analysis of gender-based asylum cases. UC Hastings Professor and CGRS Director Karen Musalo and CUNY Professor of Political Science Anna Law (co-Principal Investigators) and CGRS attorneys Blaine Bookey and Eunice Lee co-authored the proposal and will jointly undertake the three-year study.

NSF awarded UC Hastings a total of $185,998 (NSF ID# 1556131) and CUNY Brooklyn College a total of $79,497 (NSF ID #1556551) for the three-year grant period, to commence this Spring 2016.  

The joint study will deepen understanding of asylum adjudication at a crucial juncture. The surge of asylum seekers across our borders has brought the issue of who should be considered a refugee to the forefront of our national debates. To deter the flow of Central American women and children seeking asylum, the Obama Administration has applied harsh enforcement tactics such as home raids and family detention—and yet has still come under criticism from public figures who would seal our borders entirely. In contrast, others have deplored the Administration's punitive policies and urged a more humanitarian approach. These divergent responses reflect conflicting views over whether refugee protection properly extends to Central American women and children, many of whom are fleeing gender-based violence such as intrafamilial abuse, sexual violence, forced marriage, and femicide.

The NSF study will draw upon the researchers’ expertise in refugee law and political science to investigate how immigration courts decide gender-based asylum claims. The executive-branch judges who staff our immigration courts wield tremendous authority over asylum seekers’ cases, as applicants seek federal court review in only a minority of cases. Yet, existing scholarship on decision-making processes has focused almost entirely on federal courts—leaving immigration court adjudication under-studied and under-theorized.

To fill this gap, CGRS-UCH and CUNY will undertake an interpretive content analysis of the largest known repository of immigration court asylum decisions from around the country—containing more than 800 decisions, dating from 1994 to the present, collected and housed by CGRS. Using an innovative grounded theory approach, supplemented by quantitative data analysis, their project will examine how factors such as case facts, legal precedent, adjudicator background, and institutional components influence agency decision-making in gender-based asylum cases. Because of the unique nature of CGRS’s dataset, the researchers will examine a level of immigration bureaucracy never before studied in this regard. Their joint project will make key scholarly contributions to the fields of law and political science, and further public understanding of our refugee protection system.