⚖️🗽🛡RECOGNIZING WOMEN REFUGEES: Professor Karen Musalo @ ImmigrationProf Blog — Don’t Add A “6th Protected Ground” To The Statute; Get Some Better-Qualified Judges 🧑🏽‍⚖️ Who Will Respect & Follow Existing Law To Protect Those Already Covered, But Wrongfully Denied Refuge By Bad Judging & Restrictionist Policies!


Karen Musalo
Professor Karen Musalo
Director, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Hastings Law


By Immigration Prof


The Wrong Answer to the Right Question:  How to Address the Failure of Protection for Gender-Based Claims?

By Professor Karen Musalo, Bank of America Professor of International Law, Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, UC Hastings

In 1996 I was honored to litigate the first case at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), Matter of Kasinga,[1] that opened the door to protection for women fleeing gender-based harms.  To qualify for recognition as a refugee under U.S. law, an individual must establish “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution” on account of one of five grounds – “race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”[2]  This definition in the 1980 Refugee Act essentially adopts the standard set forth in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention[3] and its 1967 U.N. Refugee Protocol,[4] which the U.S. ratified in 1968.

The woman seeking asylum in the Kasinga case fled female genital cutting and forced marriage.  In a ground-breaking decision, the BIA ruled that cutting was persecution, and it was “on account of” her membership in a gender-defined social group.  In so ruling, the BIA was following the guidance that UNHCR has issued over a number of years, noting that the absence of gender as a protected ground should not impede protection for women fleeing persecution, because the particular social group ground encompasses gender-defined groups.[5]

The Kasinga decision was a breakthrough for women, and a highwater mark in U.S. adjudicators following international guidance.  It also raised expectations that U.S. law would continue to evolve and extend protection to women fleeing the many forms of gender-based violence to which they are subject.  However, that has not been the case, and there have been retreats from protection across administrations, although undoubtedly we witnessed the most dramatic attempts to end protection in gender claims during the Trump administration, which issued extremely limiting Attorney General decisions, such as Matter of A-B- I,[6] and Matter of A-B- II –[7] as well as regulations[8] – currently enjoined[9]—that explicitly rule out gender-based claims.

The Biden administration has committed itself to reviewing the issue of protection for those fleeing gender-based violence.[10]  As we consider how to remedy the issue, some argue for a legislative amendment to the refugee definition, adding gender as a sixth ground to the statute’s five protected grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion and membership in a particular social group.  This is the wrong solution.  It would not only repeat the errors of the past (amending the refugee definition in 1996, discussed below), but it would also fail to adequately protect survivors of gender-based violence.  At the same time, it would lead to the quite foreseeable consequence of leaving many deserving asylum seekers outside the ambit of refugee protection.  It is also likely to signal to other Convention State parties that unless they also add a sixth ground, they could deny protection to women and girls without running afoul of the treaty’s obligations.

In order to prescribe a remedy, one first has to diagnose the illness; in order to understand why the sixth ground solution is wrong, we need to examine what occurred after Kasinga that limited protection in subsequent claims involving women fleeing gender-based persecution. . . . .


Read the rest of Karen’s outstanding analysis at the link.

Here’s a question from last summer’s “Jeopardy style” final exam in Immigration Law & Policy @ Georgetown Law:

A: Judge Schmidt’s favorite case.

Q: What is Matter of Kasinga?

Happy to say that everyone got that one right! Of course, I wrote the decision in Matter of Kasinga!

Karen’s bottom line: “We should be working to bring the U.S. into compliance with UNHCR’s social group interpretation, rather than surrendering to its flawed interpretation, by adding a sixth ground.”

The key is better Federal Judges, from the Immigration Courts all the way up to the Supremes: Judges who are “practical scholars” in human rights and applied due process; judges who have represented asylum seekers, particularly women, and understand their plight.

This week, President Biden announced the creation of the White House Gender Policy Council. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/08/executive-order-on-establishment-of-the-white-house-gender-policy-council/

That’s a nice gesture. But, as I always say, actions are what really counts. So here are actions that Judge Garland can take immediately as Attorney General to finally fulfill the promise of Matter of Kasinga:

  • Vacate the atrocious, misogynist, perversion of asylum law (not to mention facts of record) by Sessions in Matter of A-B-;
  • Appoint some female “practical scholars in human rights” to appellate judgeships on the BIA.

That’s how to really honor Women’s History Month!

To understand the human impact of Sessions’s grotesque misconstruction of asylum law and the relevant facts in Matter of A-B-, check out this video short featuring Karen and others along with Ms. A-B-:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRQpXRWlQL0

I generally agree with Karen’s concerns about specific gender-based legislation potentially having an unintended negative effect. That is certainly the fate of past unsuccessful attempts to include gender-based asylum in the regulations.

They essentially were “hijacked” by DOJ litigators and enforcement-oriented policy officials looking for ways to facially appease women’s rights groups, while actually proposing to restrict eligibility and make it easier for OIL and the SG’s Office to defend denials of asylum. They also sought to create hyper-technical requirements that would have effectively made it impossible for any unrepresented individual to properly set forth a “cognizable particular social group.”

These, in and of themselves, are reasons for removing the Immigration Courts from the DOJ and creating an independent Article I structure. The “ultimate insult to injury” was when EOIR enthusiastically participated in Stephen Miller’s currently-enjoined attempt to completely write gender-based asylum out of the law. Absurdly, that came at a time when gender-based persecution has become endemic throughout the world!

Not surprisingly, the DOJ, a prosecutorial agency at heart, is most often interested in “litigation strategies” to make it easier for the Government to successfully defend the burgeoning immigration litigation in Federal Court, rather than guaranteeing justice for asylum seekers and other migrants. Quite ironically, what would really reduce the volume of civil immigration litigation is more practical, expert decision making from better qualified Immigration Judges at the “retail level” of the system.

Gimmicks to “game” the Federal Court system against asylum seekers and other migrants by skirting due process and fundamental fairness have actually contributed to, rather than reduced, the amount of civil immigration litigation the Circuits. It has also generated many avoidable “Circuit conflicts” that require attention on Supremes’ limited docket. The failure of the DOJ, the Immigration Courts, and the Federal Courts to recognize and protect the due process rights of asylum seekers and other migrants has directly carried over into the failure of our justice system to achieve equal justice under law for racial minorities.

“Institutionalized racism” is inextricably linked to “Dred Scottification” of migrants of color in the Immigration Courts! The Biden Administration can’t solve the former without addressing the latter!

Bad judging and skewed policies on the “retail level” create multiple problems that adversely affect the entire Federal Justice system. I guarantee that they will not be solved by more restrictionist gimmicks and and unduly narrow and tone-deaf interpretations by judges and policy officials who lack the necessary expertise in immigration and human rights laws and the real-life understanding and perspective of the human consequences of the choices that judges make on a daily basis.

But, I also think that in addition to better judges, it is important to revise the statutory language to make it more explicitly inclusive and clarify that gender-based asylum, family based asylum, and other protected groups are examples, but not limits, of those covered by “particular social group.” Also, the statute should reverse the BIA’s stilted restrictionist interpretations (all too often incorrectly given “deference” by Circuit Courts shirking their duty) of “nexus” as a vehicle to deny asylum rather than an expansive concept that can and should be used to extend life-saving protections where necessary.

Otherwise, as Trump, Sessions, Barr, and Miller demonstrated, needed protection becomes largely a matter of who is appointing the judges at any particular point in time. Protection must and should be more durable — for all refugees including, but not limited, to those seeking  gender-based protection!

Better Federal Judges are the beginning, but by no means the end, of what is needed to make due process, fundamental fairness, and genuine refugee protections the hallmarks of American law. They are also required to turn institutionalized racism into equal justice for all persons in America, regardless of race, religion, gender, or other defining personal characteristics.

🇺🇸⚖🗽Due Process Forever! Asylum Laws Must Protect, Not Reject!🧑🏽‍⚖️🛡



⚖️🗽🛡RECOGNIZING WOMEN REFUGEES: Professor Karen Musalo @ ImmigrationProf Blog — Don’t Add A “6th Protected Ground” To The Statute; Get Some Better-Qualified Judges 🧑🏽‍⚖️ Who Will Respect & Follow Existing Law To Protect Those Already Covered, But Wrongfully Denied Refuge By Bad Judging & Restrictionist Policies!