Defending Refugee Survivors of Domestic Violence

Help Defend Asylum

CGRS relies on the generous support of people like you to sustain our advocacy defending the human rights of refugees. Make a gift today!


(October 2020) - This summer CGRS celebrated several important victories in our ongoing litigation to challenge the Matter of A-B- ruling and restore protections for refugee survivors of domestic violence. Issued by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June 2018, Matter of A-B- has created enormous obstacles to protection for survivors and others fleeing abuses in their homes and communities. The decision has led to a sharp downturn in asylum grant rates for Central American asylum seekers, many of whom have had their cases unfairly denied by adjudicators empowered by A-B- to prejudge claims involving domestic violence and gang brutality.

In July we celebrated a victory in our lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, Grace v. Barr, which challenges the implementation of A-B- in initial asylum screenings. In August the Ninth Circuit overturned three Board of Immigration Appeals decisions denying asylum to women fleeing gender-based violence in Central America and Mexico. Attorney General William Barr struck back in September, issuing a sweeping decision in the case Matter of A-C-A-A-.

Grace v. Barr: Demanding a Fair Process at the Border

In July we had a major win in our lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Grace v. Barr, which challenges the implementation of Matter of A-B- in initial credible fear screenings. We filed the Grace suit in 2018 on behalf of women and children who had been turned away at the border by officials who used A-B- to order their rapid deportations. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 17 ruling in Grace upholds key aspects of the lower court’s injunction against the administration, affirming that survivors seeking refuge at the border must be provided a fair opportunity to present their asylum claims. Most importantly, lawyers for the Trump administration conceded that there could be no categorical bar against the claims of women fleeing domestic violence.

CGRS and the ACLU recently released a practice advisory with guidance on the impact of Grace for individuals at all stages of the asylum process – available to advocates upon request at this link.

Diaz-Reynoso v. Barr: Overturning Unjust Immigration Court and BIA Denials

Post-Matter of A-B-, survivors have faced a steep uphill battle in immigration court and before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board), the Justice Department’s highest level of immigration review. For over two years, CGRS has been strategically intervening in domestic violence cases wrongly denied at the immigration court and BIA levels, seeking opportunities to challenge A-B- in the federal courts of appeals. In the spring, CGRS and fellow advocates secured major victories in the First and Sixth Circuits. This summer we saw the Ninth Circuit weigh in.

In August the Ninth Circuit overturned three BIA decisions denying asylum to women fleeing gender-based violence in Central America and Mexico. The Board had summarily denied the women protection, using Matter of A-B- as justification to deprive them of a fair hearing. On August 7 the Ninth Circuit issued a published opinion in Diaz-Reynoso v. Barraffirming unequivocally that the administration cannot categorically reject domestic violence-related claims or use Matter of A-B- to single survivors out for discriminatory treatment. Just days later, the court applied its holding in two other casesFuentes-Reyes v. Barr and Arellano Rodriguez v. Barr, remanding those cases to the Board as well.

Ms. Diaz-Reynoso was represented by professors and law students from the UC Hastings Appellate Project, Ms. Arellano Rodriguez by Stephen Curtis Robbins, and Ms. Fuentes-Reyes by Sylvia Esparza. CGRS had the honor of supporting these three women as amicus before the Ninth Circuit, with our Legal Director Blaine Bookey presenting oral argument in March. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program provided additional amicus support, as did a group of 39 former immigration judges and BIA members.

We expect that the court’s published ruling in Diaz-Reynoso will severely blunt the impact of Matter of A-B- in future adjudications, particularly within the Ninth Circuit. For more on what these cases mean for refugee survivors, check out CGRS’s latest article in Ms.

Matter of A-C-A-A-: The Administration Strikes Back

On September 24, William Barr issued the first precedential Attorney General decision in a gender-based asylum case since Matter of A-B-. In Matter of A-C-A-A-, Barr overturned a grant of asylum to Ms. A.A., a Salvadoran woman, and reiterated Sessions’ flawed dicta in Matter of A-B- casting doubt on the viability of asylum claims based on domestic violence. Troublingly, Barr’s decision in A-C-A-A- directs adjudicators to “scrutinize” asylum claims based on persecution against a group, such as one defined by gender, that encompasses “many millions of persons” – reinforcing the Trump administration’s backwards position that women seeking protection from gender-based violence generally won’t meet the refugee definition. CGRS has teamed up with partners at Pangea Legal Services to represent Ms. A.A. back before the BIA where, together, we will be fighting for a reversal of Barr’s decision in her case.