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Our Work » Policy and Advocacy » Advancing Protections for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence
Advancing Protections for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence


For over two decades, CGRS has been at the forefront of the movement to ensure protections for refugees fleeing gender-based persecution. Professor Karen Musalo launched CGRS in 1999 following her groundbreaking legal victory in Matter of Kasinga, on behalf of Fauziya Kassindja, which recognized persecution motivated by gender as grounds for asylum for the first time in U.S. law. Founded to advocate for women like Fauziya, CGRS has grown into an internationally respected resource for gender asylum, renowned for our knowledge of the law and ability to combine sophisticated legal strategies with policy advocacy, grassroots mobilization,  and human rights interventions.

We bring cutting edge litigation to push the law forward, advocate for policies that recognize gender-based persecution as a basis for asylum, and provide legal support in thousands of individual gender-based asylum cases annually. We also work with advocates and experts on the ground in the countries from which many asylum seekers hail, including Mexico, Haiti, and Northern Central America, to document and address the conditions that force women and girls to flee.

Our History
  • 1996: Fauziya Kassindja, a Togolese woman fleeing female genital cutting, wins asylum with the representation of Professor Karen Musalo. This marks the first precedential decision recognizing gender-based violence as a basis for asylum.

  • 1999: Professor Musalo founds CGRS to protect the rights of people fleeing gender-based violence.

  • 1999: CGRS takes on the case of Rody Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman fleeing domestic violence. Her case becomes the battleground on the issue of whether domestic violence can serve as a basis for asylum.

  • 2009: After a tumultuous decade of hard-fought litigation and advocacy, Rody Alvarado is granted asylum. This victory marks a turning point in the movement to secure protections for refugee survivors of gender-based violence.

  • 2014: Aminta Cifuentes wins asylum in the first precedential decision recognizing domestic violence as a basis for asylum, known as Matter of A-R-C-G-. CGRS provides amicus support to Ms. Cifuentes’ attorney and trains advocates to apply A-R-C-G- in their clients’ cases.

  • 2018: Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally intervenes in the case of Anabel (“A.B.”), a Salvadoran domestic violence survivor, using her case, Matter of A-B-, as a vehicle to proclaim that domestic violence and gang brutality “generally” are not grounds for asylum. CGRS takes on Anabel’s case.

  • 2019: CGRS and partners launch Immigrant Women Too, a national campaign to resist the Trump administration’s assault on asylum for survivors of gender-based violence. The campaign mobilizes asylum seekers and advocates in cities across the country, from San Francisco to New York City.

  • 2020: Every major candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination pledges to overturn the Matter of A-B- ruling and restore protections for refugee survivors.

  • 2020: The First Circuit overturns a lower court decision denying asylum to Jacelys Miguelina De Pena-Paniagua, reaffirming that despite the A-B- ruling domestic violence survivors are deserving of refugee protection under U.S. law. CGRS presents arguments in support of Ms. Pena-Paniagua as amicus.

  • 2020: The Ninth Circuit reverses a lower court decision denying asylum to Sontos Diaz-Reynoso on the basis of A-B-, reaffirming that domestic violence survivors can qualify for asylum. CGRS presents arguments in support of Ms. Diaz-Reynoso as amicus.

  • 2020: The Trump administration introduces draconian regulations that advocates dub the “death to asylum” rule. Among other provisions, the regulations sought to codify A-B- and permanently preclude protection for people fleeing gender-based violence.

  • 2021: CGRS, along with co-counsel at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and Sidley Austin LLP, sues to challenge the “death to asylum” regulations and wins an injunction that blocks them from taking effect.

  • 2021: The Biden administration issues an executive order pledging to issue regulations that clarify the refugee definition, with the intent of protecting the rights of people seeking asylum on the basis of gender-based violence and other human rights violations.

  • 2021: The Ninth Circuit reverses a Board of Immigration Appeals decision denying asylum to Maria Rodriguez Tornes and affirms that domestic violence survivors can qualify for asylum. CGRS supports Ms. Rodriguez as amicus and provides expert testimony to corroborate her claims.

  • 2021: Attorney General Merrick Garland vacates the Matter of A-B- ruling, restoring Matter of A-R-C-G- as national precedent for survivors of domestic violence seeking asylum.

  • 2021-present: Post-vacatur, CGRS supports women whose cases were wrongly denied under Matter of A-B- in securing second chances to have their claims heard. CGRS and our partners successfully advocate for the government to provide this opportunity in hundreds of cases. In Matter of D-C-C-C-, for example, we convince the Justice Department to give another opportunity to a mother and daughter fleeing a Honduran gang that had murdered many members of their family; the agency had previously rejected their claims on the basis of Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A-.

  • 2022: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19) introduce the Refugee Protection Act of 2022. CGRS endorses the bill which, among other crucial provisions, clarifies the legal standards for asylum to ensure people fleeing gender-based persecution have a meaningful opportunity to present their claims.

Aligning U.S. Law with International Standards

Clarifying the Law Through Regulations

On February 2, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order directing the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to examine whether the United States’ treatment of asylum claims based on domestic or gang violence is consistent with international standards, and to propose a joint rule clarifying the meaning of “particular social group,” one of the five protected grounds upon which an asylum claim can be based. President Biden set a deadline of October 2021 for the rule to be proposed. Nearly two years later, the rule has yet to be introduced.

Many marginalized people request asylum on the basis of persecution suffered on account of their membership in a particular social group, including women fleeing domestic violence, children targeted by gangs, LGBTQ+ people fleeing homophobic and transphobic violence, and others who have been historically excluded from protection. However this area of asylum law has become highly politicized, with politicians promoting increasingly restrictive policies and legal interpretations that make it nearly impossible for many bona fide refugees to obtain protection. For those denied asylum, deportation can be a death sentence.

While some have proposed adding “gender” as an additional protected ground for asylum, this approach would not adequately protect women fleeing gender-based violence and would leave behind many others escaping persecution on the basis of social group membership such as LGBTQ+ people and children. It would also mark a significant departure from international refugee law as well as UN guidance, and could send a dangerous message to countries that have not codified gender as a separate ground that people fleeing gender-based violence do not otherwise qualify for protection - providing those countries cover to deny protection without meaningfully considering women’s claims.

Statutory Solutions

Lawmakers have proposed legislation that would clarify the legal standards applicable to asylum claims, combat bias and arbitrary decision-making, and ensure people fleeing gender-based violence and other human rights violations have a fair chance to pursue their claims. The Refugee Protection Act of 2022 clarifies several key terms that pose barriers in many meritorious claims, bringing U.S. law into alignment with international standards and guidance from the UN Refugee Agency. For example, it offers a definition for the meaning of “particular social group,” that would encompass “women” as a clearly recognized group, as well as the meaning of “nexus,” the requirement that an asylum seeker’s fear of persecution be linked to their membership in a protected group.

Policy Analysis

CGRS serves as a critical resource on asylum to policymakers, journalists, and the public. We provide rapid analysis of policy developments and advise our leaders on how to ensure the United States lives up to its legal and moral commitments to people fleeing gender-based persecution.

Family with two kids standing at Tijuana border
Deadly Inertia: Needless Delay of “Particular Social Group” Regulations
This factsheet explains why regulations on particular social group are important, why this legal issue has become so contentious, and how the Biden administration's needless delay in proposing regulations is putting lives at risk.
Deploring the Violence, Abandoning the Victim
This piece describes how adjudicators have distorted the law to deny asylum to people fleeing gangs, and how regulations on particular social group could remedy this injustice and align U.S. law with our international legal obligations.
Asylum and the Three Little Words that Can Spell Life or Death
This article describes how the Board of Immigration Appeals has "upended law, policy, and sheer logic" to stack the deck against Central American refugees and calls on the Biden administration to right the course.
Protester holding up sign that says "¡El asilo es una esperanza; no cierres tu corazon! (Translation: Asylum is a hope; don't close your heart.)
The Wrong Answer to the Right Question
This piece argues that adding gender as a sixth protected ground upon which an asylum claim can be based is a wrong-headed solution to the challenge of protecting survivors of gender-based violence and offers alternative recommendations.
Featured Litigation

CGRS undertakes strategic litigation to advance sound asylum laws and protect the due process rights of people seeking safety, including those fleeing gender-related persecution.

Woman and children standing in a line behind wishes the children have written.
De Pena Paniagua v. Barr
CGRS presented arguments in support of Jacelys Miguelina De Pena-Paniagua as amicus, securing a precedential First Circuit decision affirming domestic violence as a basis for asylum.
Protest sign reading ¡Asilo ya!
Diaz-Reynoso v. Barr
CGRS presented arguments in support of Sontos Diaz-Reynoso as amicus, securing a precedential Ninth Circuit decision recognizing that domestic violence survivors can qualify for asylum.
Stories

These are the stories of women and girls who left everything they knew behind to seek asylum and build a new life in the United States. Some have become advocates in the movement to defend protections for refugee survivors of gender-based violence.

Anabel
Anabel's case was at the center of the Trump administration's assault on protections for domestic violence survivors seeking safety.
Fauziya
"For those of us who have no choice but to flee our home countries, asylum can mean the difference between life and death."
Zoila
Still navigating her own asylum case, Zoila has joined the immigrant women leaders of Mujeres Unidas y Activas in speaking out against Biden's asylum ban.
Xiomara
Xiomara knew her attackers would be able to track her family down, no matter where she went. She had to keep her children safe.
Blanca
It took Blanca 10 years to win asylum. Now she's an organizer and advocate for other immigrant women seeking safety.
Lupita
Now living safely in San Francisco, Lupita has dedicated her life to advancing the rights of trans women and people living with HIV.
Cristina
After being expelled and surviving a harrowing near-death ordeal in Mexico, Cristina joined efforts to advocate for an end to the Title 42 expulsion policy.
Roxanne
“Now that I have asylum, I can live, I can work, and I have access to the same opportunities others do,” Roxanne says. “I don’t have to hide. I’m free."
Elbia
Elbia spent over a year locked up in Eloy, Arizona, where 94% of asylum claims are denied.
Brenda
Brenda sought asylum in the U.S. after enduring years of domestic abuse. "Now that I have been granted asylum, I feel like a door has opened for me," she says.