Impact Litigation

In 1999, following her groundbreaking legal victory in Matter of Kasinga, CGRS Director Karen Musalo founded CGRS to meet the needs of asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence. The applicant in Kasinga, Fauziya Kassindja, was a young Togolese woman who fled to the United States to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage to a much older man. By the time Karen became involved, an immigration judge had already denied Fauziya asylum, holding that her fear of female genital cutting did not make her eligible for refugee protection. Karen led the legal team that represented Fauziya and argued her case before 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 growing U.S. and international movements to recognize gender violence as a basis for asylum.

Since our founding nearly 20 years ago, CGRS has earned recognition as one of the world’s premier organizations on the issue of women fleeing persecution, and we have litigated many key cases that have set the standards applicable to claims for asylum and related humanitarian protections – from Matter of R-A- and Matter of L-R-, two cases that opened the door to asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence, to Abebe v. Gonzales, which expanded asylum protection to parents who oppose female genital cutting and fear that their daughter may be subjected to the practice. Our intervention as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) has also made a critical difference in a number of seminal gender-based asylum cases. For example, our involvement in Matter of A-R-C-G- contributed to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ groundbreaking precedential decision codifying recognition of domestic violence as a basis for asylum. Our amicus brief in Bah v. Mukasey helped convince the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an important decision holding that past female genital cutting does not preclude future attempts to subject a woman to additional cutting or other types of gender-based violence and that women who have been cut in the past may thus have an ongoing fear of return to their home countries.

Over the years, our focus has expanded to include not only women fleeing gender-based violence, but also children, LGBTQ individuals, and individuals fleeing gangs, among others. CGRS has been involved in cases around the country that have set key precedents to expand protections for such populations. For example, in Henriquez-Rivas v. Holder, our oral argument before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals contributed to a positive ruling in favor of a 12-year-old Salvadoran girl who testified against gang members who had murdered her father. This case laid the foundation for witnesses of such crimes to be considered a group deserving of asylum. We also played a key role in Bringas-Rodriguez v. Sessions, resulting in a ruling that both reaffirmed and expanded the availability of asylum and related protections to LGBTQ individuals, survivors of child sexual abuse, and many others.

In recent years, we have begun to strategically target U.S. immigration jurisdictions that deny asylum at rates far higher than the national average, some as high as 98% – what we have termed “asylum free zones.” In collaboration with the Innovation Law Lab and CLINIC, we partner with and mentor local nonprofit and pro bono attorneys to represent clients in these jurisdictions with the aim of building a coalition of advocates to challenge this culture of near-blanket asylum denials. We also strategically intervene in cases that have the potential to set precedent. Read more about “asylum free zones” and extreme disparities within the U.S. immigration court system here.