ACTION ALERT: Stop the Trump Administration from Eliminating Asylum

Act now to make sure immigrant survivors can continue building lives free from violence in the United States.

Our sincere gratitude goes out to everyone who took action in defense of asylum and to Chapman and Cutler LLP for assisting Sanctuary in submitting a detailed comment to DHS & DOJ.


The Trump administration has just proposed regulations that would effectively eliminate gender-based asylum claims, prohibiting individuals fleeing domestic violence, human trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, anti-LGBTQ violence, and other forms of gender-based persecution from seeking safe haven in the United States. By codifying into federal law its numerous and sprawling anti-asylum policies, these rules represent the most consequential attempt by this administration to dismantle asylum protection for the most vulnerable survivors.

Relying on the decision in Matter of A-B- by Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the rules propose a change to the very definition of “refugee”— a crucial protection created under international law and enshrined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The rules further eliminate any possibility of protection for survivors of domestic violence and anti-LGBTQ violence by framing such violence as “private criminal acts” or “interpersonal disputes.”

At Sanctuary, we work with gender violence survivors, 70% of whom are immigrants. Many are seeking asylum due to extreme intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and/or death threats they experienced in their home countries. 


Click here to learn more about our work or continue reading for instructions on how to push back on the Trump administration’s latest effort.


The proposed asylum rule represents an unconscionable attack on our clients and others seeking humanitarian protections to escape violence, protect themselves and their families, and work towards a new life. With assistance from Chapman and Cutler LLP, Sanctuary submitted a detailed comment urging the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw the proposed rules in their entirety.


HOW TO SUBMIT A COMMENT

Our friends at Immigration Equality have created an Individual action takers guide that includes sample comments asking DHS and DOJ to withdraw the proposed rule. All you need to do is personalize the sample comment and briefly explain, in your own voice, why the U.S. must preserve access to protection for all asylum seekers, including survivors of gender-based violence. Comments must be submitted by 11:59 PM ET on Wed. July 15. 

SUBMIT A COMMENT NOW 

Please, DO NOT copy and submit the sample comment as it is—The U.S. government is required by law to review and respond to unique comments only. We strongly encourage you to personalize your message so that it speaks to your own individual and/or professional experiences.  

You can also find visit the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s asylum rule web-hub to find detailed templates specifically geared towards attorneys and legal service providers by the Tahirih Justice Center, National Immigrant Justice Center, Immigration Equality, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), among others representing specific perspectives (e.g., templates from the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors for domestic violence/sexual assault advocates, from the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights for children’s advocates, from Physicians for Human Rights for health professionals, and from the Coalition to End Violence Against Women taking a U.S. foreign policy angle).


SANCTUARY’S IMMIGRATION WORK

For over 30 years, Sanctuary for Families has served and advocated for survivors of gender violence regardless of immigration status, offering the highest quality of legal representation to clients in order to protect their right to due process.

In the face of Matter of A-B– and other anti-immigrant policies, Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project has led the field in fighting for our clients and other survivors of gender-based violence, advancing—and winning—asylum claims on their behalf based on theories of feminist political opinion. Take, for example, our client Ms. O-T-, a Honduran woman who testified before a judge at the New York Immigration Court in the fall of 2019.

Ms. O-T-‘s Story

As a young woman from a rural village in Guatemala who was removed from school at the age of 9 and who spoke little Spanish and no English, Ms. O-T’s pro se I-589 application demonstrated little to no understanding of the legal framework underlying her valid claim for asylum, let alone the type of evidence supportive of her claim.  With the help of Sanctuary counsel, Ms. O-T- was able to testify to the court not just about the severity of the harm she experienced at the hands of her husband, but also about the many ways her individual actions expressing independence from both her husband and the patriarchal community to which she belonged prompted increased violence and threats to her body and her life.

For the first time since entering the United States and asking for asylum protection, Ms. O-T- felt liberated to tell her story simply and directly. Her testimony—sincere and succinct, and punctuated by moments of emotional release—served to assist the judge in ascertaining not just the factual elements underlying her claim for asylum but also her credibility as a witness. Even the government’s cross-examination of her testimony served to solidify her claim as she further clarified some of the more complicated aspects of her experience as a survivor.  The court’s ultimate finding—that this young woman was persecuted by her partner because of her feminist political opinion—would have been impossible under the Proposed Regulation since it allows for the pretermission of an asylum application that does not, on its face, present a legally cognizable claim for asylum.

Taking Action for Our Clients

Sanctuary’s immigration team has consistently, and with success, argued before the immigration courts and the asylum office about the importance of country conditions evidence in framing our client’s claim for asylum within a specific cultural and political context. The Proposed Rules would bar consideration of such evidence, ignoring the reality that persecution of an individual cannot be considered in a vacuum and must be looked within the context of wider societal realities remains.

Now more than ever, we stand committed to pushing back against the incremental erosion of the rights of immigrant survivors seeking protection in this country. Please join us by taking action today.

SUBMIT COMMENT NOW


Learn more about our recent immigration advocacy efforts here.

A Victory in Our Fight For New Yorkers’ Equal Access to Justice

Judge Rakoff’s ruling on ICE arrests at courthouses is a triumphant and long-awaited moment for immigrants, including many of the gender violence survivors we serve, and advocates across our State.

Last week, Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests at courthouses in New York State are illegal. This is a triumphant and long-awaited moment for immigrants, including many of the gender violence survivors we serve, and advocates across our State.

Sanctuary staff at an “ICE Out Of Courts” rally in 2017.

ICE’s presence in our courthouses began to increase following the election of President Trump. From January 2017 through December 2018, ICE arrests increased by 1700%. Nearly 75% of our clients at Sanctuary are immigrants and many expressed deep fear of seeking help, reporting crimes, or moving around in public. Gender violence survivors were faced with an impossible choice between ensuring their physical safety and the possibility of deportation.

As arrests increased, advocates across New York responded. Sanctuary for Families joined several leading immigrant service providers to form the ICE Out of the Courts Coalition and contributed to a shocking report on the rise of ICE arrests. Together, our coalition lobbied for the Protect Our Courts Act. While our legislative efforts were unsuccessful, Sanctuary was instrumental in convincing the New York State Office of Court Administration to issue a court order requiring a warrant for any arrest on court property in April 2019. Despite the order, however, arrests continued to increase.

In September 2019, we turned to the courts. Sanctuary for Families joined Make the Road New York, Urban Justice Center, The Door, and New York Immigration Coalition as plaintiffs in a case brought by The Legal Aid Society and Cleary Gottlieb. Our lawsuit sought a halt to ICE courthouse enforcement on behalf of a noncitizen domestic violence survivor who needed to appear in court in order to secure an order of protection but who feared the possibility of ICE arrest. Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez filed a second lawsuit arguing that ICE enforcement in and around courthouses was a threat to public safety and impeded the administration of justice.

Sanctuary ED Judy H. Kluger announces lawsuit against ICE.

Judge Rakoff’s decision in the lawsuit brought by AG James and DA Gonzalez ensures the access of those most in need of the court’s protection and preserves the sanctity of our system of justice for those who are vulnerable. At a time when victories on immigrant rights are few and far between, we are grateful for the fellowship of our amazing partner agencies, AG James and DA Gonzalez, and immensely proud of the attorneys and clinicians at Sanctuary who support and advocate for immigrant survivors every day.

ACTION ALERT: Contact Congress and Tell Them to Address Survivors’ Needs in Next COVID-19 Response Package

Act now to urge Congress to address the urgent and emerging needs of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and the programs that serve them during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting disruptions.

A call to action from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

Right now, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault are at great risk.

Act now to urge Congress to address the urgent and emerging needs of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and the programs that serve them during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting disruptions.

The House of Representatives is finalizing its phase four COVID-19 response package. It is critical that this package meets the needs of victims, survivors, and everyday people. We have circulated a letter to Members of Congress, outlining steps they can take to support survivors and advocates — now we need YOUR help. Your Members of Congress need to hear from you NOW, while negotiations for the phase four package are underway. Your Senators and Representative both need to hear from you, but if you can only contact one person, right now, the priority is the House of Representatives.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Call your Members of Congress or contact them on social media, and tell them that the phase four package must contain provisions to directly address the needs of survivors and the people who serve them. Tell them that the package must:

  • Include $100 million in additional funding for the Sexual Assault Services Program (For more information on the needs of rape crisis centers and sexual assault survivors click here.)
  • Include emergency VAWA funding to states for victim services with funding for Tribes and culturally specific-services;
  • Fund the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act;
  • Include funding for grants for outreach to underserved communities;
  • Address the housing needs of survivors;
  • Meet the economic needs of survivors;
  • Address the long term impact on survivors by redirecting funds from deferred and non-prosecution agreements from the General Treasury to the Crime Victims Fund;
  • Temporarily waive match requirements for federal grants; and
  • Ensure immigrants have access to health, safety, and stability, including access to testing and treatment, and restricting immigration enforcement. For more information on the needs of immigrant survivors click here.

You can find your Senators and their contact information HERE and your Representative and their contact information HERE. You can find Members’ social media handles HERE. If you have contacts in Congressional offices, email is also an effective way to get in touch with staff who are working remotely.

Call/email script:

“Hello. My name is [your name], and I am a constituent [calling/emailing] from [your location and, if applicable, your program]. COVID-19 disproportionately impacts victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and Congress must act to support them and address their needs. This includes providing more funding for programs and ensuring survivors have access to services, housing, and economic stability; waiving grant match requirements; ensuring immigrants have access to health, safety, and stability; and addressing the long term impacts of this crisis on survivors by addressing dwindling deposits into the Crime Victims Fund. We’re counting on you to protect victims and survivors.”

If you are emailing or communicating on social media, please include a link to the letter mentioned above.

Sample social media posts:

.@Handle, #COVID19 disproportionately harms survivors of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. Support them by increasing funding, waiving match, supporting ALL communities & addressing VOCA shortfalls! More at https://tinyurl.com/ybkmnots.

.@Handle, support Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault survivors and programs by increasing resources for FVPSA/VAWA/housing, waiving match, fixing the Crime Victims Fund, and supporting ALL communities! #COVID4More at https://tinyurl.com/ybkmnots.

For more information, please contact Rachel Graber (rgraber@ncadv.org), Dorian Karp (dkarp@jwi.org), and Emily Dahl (edahl@nnedv.org).

Women & Girls in the U.S. Are At Risk of Female Genital Mutilation

FGM is happening in our own backyard, threatening the health and lives of more than half a million Americans.

Every year, on February 6, Sanctuary joins thousands of advocates across the world to observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)—A form of gender-based violence endured by more than 200 million women and girls worldwide that involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. It is a universal practice, not prescribed by any religious teachings, typically performed on girls from infancy through puberty. Victims of FGM often suffer from severe, long-lasting physical and psychological harm, and many have lost their lives to this form of violence.

Immediate complications and health risks associated with this practice can include severe pain, excessive bleeding, swelling of genital tissue, fever, infection, urinary problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, and death. Long-term consequences can include urinary, vaginal, and menstrual issues, painful genital scarring and keloids, decreased sexual pleasure, reduced sexual functioning, and increased risk of complications during childbirth, as well as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), among other psychological problems.

Prevalence of FGM in the United States

Due to the secretive nature of FGM and the lack of resources allocated to research of this practice, it is impossible to say for sure how many girls in the U.S. are at risk of female genital mutilation. Nonetheless, we know from experience that FGM is taking place in our own backyard, at alarming rates.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. have experienced or are currently at risk of undergoing this practice. This is more than three times higher than an earlier estimate based on 1990 data. Based on survivors’ testimony and research conducted by Sanctuary and other anti-FGM advocates, we believe that the incidence of FGM for women and girls in the United States may be even higher. Our data shows that FGM is being practiced in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Washington, California, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, Kansas, and Washington, D.C. It also suggests an even greater number of girls from the U.S. are taken abroad to be subjected to this violence, a practice known as “vacation cutting.” Today, however, there is no federal prohibition on this rampant violation of women’s rights in the United States.

FGM Legislation in the United States

Up until two years ago, the U.S. stood with Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and thirteen other countries in Western Europe in banning female genital mutilation. The practice was first banned by Congress in 1996 with the adoption of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (18 U.S.C. § 116). Because this federal ban fell short in addressing the issue of vacation cutting, Sanctuary and fellow advocates fought to protect American girls abroad and succeeded. In 2013, the act was amended to outlaw the transport of women and girls out of the U.S. for the purpose of FGM. But a more recent ruling struck down the federal ban as unconstitutional, leaving hundreds of thousands of girls in the U.S. at risk of female genital mutilation.

The first blow to the federal FGM prohibition came when the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan returned a decision in the matter United States v. Nagarwala. On November 20, 2018, Judge Friedman dropped most of the charges against the defendants, two doctors and four parents accused of mutilating the genitals of nine young girls. Five of the nine girls had been transported across state lines from Minnesota and Illinois (where state FGM prohibitions existed) to Michigan (where no state-level prohibition existed at the time). Prosecutors also estimated that Dr. Nagarwala and her accomplices may have cut as many as 100 girls.  Judge Friedman, however, declared in his ruling that the 1996 federal ban was unconstitutional:

“FGM is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with longstanding tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.” – Judge Bernard Friedman

In early 2019, the Department of Justice and the Solicitor General filed a notice of appeal against this tragic decision but later chose not to pursue it. Since then, the House of Representatives has attempted to defend the constitutionality of the ban after the executive branch declined to do so.  Unfortunately, on September 13, 2019, the Sixth Circuit granted the federal government’s motion to voluntarily dismiss its own appeal of the District Court’s decision– a ruling driven in part by the misguided belief that FGM cannot be a commercial activity and that the “market” for FGM was limited to the parents of the nine girls in this case.

TAKE ACTION

Now, we face the difficult situation of outlawing female genital mutilation on our own soil—again.  As the United States has done before, it must stand up, identify, and decry this form of gender-based violence. This practice is pervasive and cannot be eradicated based solely on state criminal laws. In addition to enacting new laws to deter U.S. families from practicing female genital mutilation, both at home and abroad, we must fight the misconceptions fueled by the profound lack of public awareness and research on the topic of FGM. Survivors from varying backgrounds—Christian, Muslim, American, West African, Indian, Pakistani, Egyptian—have courageously come forward to share their stories and advocate against the practice.  It is time we listen to them.

Special thanks to our partners at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP for supporting our research and anti-FGM advocacy efforts. 

Donate today and declare zero tolerance for FGM so that girls in 2020 and beyond can live free from violence.