The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies: A 2021 Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award Winner

The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at UC Hastings College of the Law protects human rights by working in the intersections of gender and migration. Karen Musalo, the founding director of GGRS, served as the lead attorney in Matter of Kasinga. In this groundbreaking 1996 legal victory, she won protection for Fauziya Kassindja, a young woman from Togo. Ms. Kassindja had fled to the United States to escape female genital mutilation (FGM) and a forced polygamous marriage to a much older man. The decision in this case established FGM as a recognized form of persecution – and it was the first time in the U.S. that asylum was granted to an asylee based on gender.  

Since its inception in 1999, CGRS has been an important partner of The Advocates. Over the years, CGRS has provided invaluable services to support individual asylum cases, led litigation to challenge the government’s improper implementation of immigration laws, and developed innovative practices. For example, CGRS staff started to partner with psychologists in representing traumatized asylum seekers – a practice that has since become standard. CGRS has grown into an internationally respected resource for gender asylum, renowned for its knowledge of the law and ability to combine sophisticated legal strategies with policy, advocacy, training, technical assistance, litigation, and human rights interventions. Volunteer attorneys from around the country benefit from the support and resources of CGRS. 

The Advocates’ board member and volunteer attorney Sam Myers praises the work of CGRS:  

“In my work with The Advocates, representing Central American children seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and asylum, the substantive research and tactical mentorship of the staff at CGRS has been invaluable. They are thorough, creative, and aware of the needs of volunteer lawyers. Their title understates the activist nature of their organization and their extraordinary value to volunteer lawyers.” 

CGRS protects the fundamental human rights of refugee women, children, LGBTQ+ individuals, and others who flee persecution and gender-based violence in their home countries. In fact, CGRS has played a key role in every major precedent-setting victory in gender-based asylum claims, breaking new legal ground and dramatically expanding the availability of protection for asylum seekers. In one important case last year, CGRS and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the previous administration’s attempts to roll back asylum protections for victims fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality. 

CGRS takes the lead on controversial issues, participates as co-counsel or amicus curiae in impact litigation, produces an extensive library of litigation support materials, maintains an unsurpassed database of asylum records and decisions, and works in coalitions with immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ+, children’s, and women’s rights networks. CGRS has been an essential ally of The Advocates and similar organizations providing life-saving legal representation to asylum seekers and working for immigration policy that reflects human rights principles.

Sarah Brenes, the director of The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program, explains: 

“Asylum protections took a hard blow over the past four years. The prior administration took direct aim at granting asylum for gender-based claims, trying to take back advancements in protecting domestic violence survivors and people affected by gang violence. At the same time, we saw unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers driven from their homes, seeking safety in the U.S. Coordination among agencies like CGRS and The Advocates proved critical to respond to individuals, and litigation prevented harmful regulations from going into effect.”  

For more than 20 years, CGRS has also engaged in international human rights work to address the underlying causes of forced migrations that produce refugees – namely, violence and persecution, committed with impunity when governments fail to protect their citizens. This unwavering commitment to promoting human rights inspires us and makes us hopeful for the future. It is with great honor that The Advocates for Human Rights presents a 2021 Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award to CGRS.  

Please join us on Thursday, June 24 for the Human Rights Awards Dinner to celebrate CGRS and all of our 2021 award recipients. RSVP on our website to receive access information. 

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