Human Rights First, Immigrant Organizations, File Amicus Brief in Gender-Based Violence Asylum Case
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) joined the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program’s amicus brief to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Matter of A-B-, a case that threatens to limit asylum protection in the United States for women and girls fleeing gender-based violence.
Over a year ago, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled in favor of the asylum applicant in the case, a woman from El Salvador who fled physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by her husband from which she was unable to obtain protection in her own country. In early March, Sessions took the unusual step of referring the Board’s decision to himself, for the stated purpose of reviewing whether being a victim of what he characterized as “private criminal activity” can be a basis for refugee protection. The framing of the attorney general’s questioning signals an attempt to undo established precedent recognizing gender-based harm, including at the hands of non-state actors, as grounds for asylum.
“The United States should be upholding laws that protect women from violence and persecution, not trying to block women and refugees from protection,” said Human Rights First’s Anwen Hughes. “Instead, the Attorney General appears poised to rewrite longstanding legal standards in order to forward the administration’s anti-refugee agenda.”
Over 30 years ago, in the Matter of Acosta, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) determined that a particular social group may be comprised of individuals sharing a common immutable characteristic, which includes gender. In line with Acosta, Friday’s brief argues that sex and gender are protected grounds, and that gender alone can define a cognizable particular social group, meaning a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their gender—and meets the other requirements of the law—can qualify for asylum. This position is consistent with the Immigration & Nationality Act and with established precedents under U.S. law, the law of other states parties to the Refugee Convention and Protocol, UNHCR guidance, and more recent Board of Immigration Appeals requirements
While the immediate target of the Attorney General’s self-certification of Matter of A-B- is a woman fleeing domestic violence, the framing of the question under review also threatens to limit protection for other categories of refugees, including victims of religious or ethnic persecution by non-state actors. This brief is one of several amicus briefs filed by faith-based organizations, former immigration judges and Board members, immigration law professors, and women’s rights and immigrants’ rights organizations, which seek to preserve the protections of asylum for refugees in the United States and to ensure that their cases are adjudicated through fair processes.