Attorney General Endangers Women and Children with New Restrictions to Asylum Law

Attorney General Sessions’ decision concerning Matter A-B- reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. Read our statement.

Our Statement

Sanctuary for Families stands with survivors of violence in condemning yesterday’s announcement by U.S. Attorney General Sessions to overturn Matter of A-B- — a case which he referred to himself and one in which he directed immigration judges to deny asylum to survivors of domestic violence.

That heartless decision reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. It also leaves vulnerable victims of other human rights abuses including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The United States has long been a safe haven for immigrants who have been persecuted and cannot rely on their own governments to protect them. This decision by A.G. Sessions eviscerates that safe haven, limiting the types of cases in which immigration judges can grant asylum and thereby increasing the likelihood that women, children, and others will be sent back to their persecutors.

Hon. Judy Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, stated:

“At Sanctuary for Families, too many of our clients bear the scars of unrelenting intimate partner violence that occurs in countries where no government or authorities will intervene. For many, a forced return to their nation of origin will be nothing short of a death sentence.”

Lori Adams, incoming Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, said:

“This callous move by the Attorney General threatens the lives of those seeking refuge in the United States, after having suffered tremendous violence and believing that this country would stand by its promise to protect those who cannot find safety in their own countries. It is a huge step backward for this country and an atrocious way to treat vulnerable immigrants who came here seeking our help.”

This decision was issued in the wake of other brutal immigration changes including a sharp increase in the criminal prosecution of asylum-seekers for “illegal entry” and a practice of separating mothers from their babies and young children at the U.S.-Mexico border to detain them in separate immigration jails, for the stated purpose of deterring families from making the journey north to seek protection in this country. It is cruel and inhumane to treat mothers and children as pawns in a political game.

Sanctuary for Families and other legal services and human rights organizations will continue to work together to push back against this incremental erosion of the rights of asylum-seekers to seek protection in this country. We invite you to stand with us and to fight for the rights of all survivors of gender-based violence.

Take Action

Donate to support Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Program

Call your Senators and Congressional Representatives and use the script below:

“Hi, my name is NAME, I’m from CITY, STATE, and I’m a constituent of SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME. I’m calling today to ask SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME to stand up for victims of gender violence, those escaping gang warfare, and LGBTQ+ people, and demand that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverse his decision on the Matter of A-B-. Sessions’ decision to deny asylum to those persecuted by private actors is a cruel step backwards for our country. Please speak out. Thank you.”

Cleary Gottlieb Attorneys Seek Asylum for Survivor of Female Genital Mutilation

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Ms. G.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cleary Gottlieb attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Ms. G,” a survivor of female genital mutilation, sexual violence, and torture. The Cleary Gottlieb team of associates S. Ellie Norton, Clayton Simmons, Jessica Thompson, and Marion de Meslon have championed Ms. G’s asylum claim throughout three years of immigration proceedings to prevent Ms. G from being deported to her persecutors in Burkina Faso.

Finding Sanctuary

Ms. G was living in a crisis domestic violence shelter when she first met Ellie, Clay, Jessica, and Marion. She suffered from repeated infections and hospitalizations caused by the female genital mutilation (FGM) she was forced to undergo as a young child. She had also been kidnapped, tortured, and raped by political groups in her home country of Burkina Faso.

After fleeing to the United States, Ms. G suffered further physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by her husband. Undocumented and unable speak or understand English, Ms. G. understandably felt scared and alone. Without friends or family members to help her, she turned to her doctors who referred her to Sanctuary for Families. Sanctuary helped Ms. G find shelter and connected her to her pro bono team at Cleary Gottlieb for legal representation.

Certain that Ms. G’s life would be in danger if she were forced to return to Burkina Faso, the Cleary Gottlieb pro bono team quickly filed an affirmative application for asylum on Ms. G’s behalf.

The team advocated that Ms. G must be granted asylum in the United States because she had endured severe persecution and horrific human rights violations in the past and would face further persecution if returned to Burkina Faso, due to political violence and the high rates of FGM and gender violence against women in Ms. G’s ethnic group in Burkina Faso.

Claiming asylum

Ms. G presented a strong claim to asylum at her asylum office interview in 2014, but to the pro bono team’s surprise, the asylum officer rejected her application merely because it lacked a copy of her marriage certificate, which was in the possession of her abusive husband. Ellie explained:

“The only copy of Ms. G’s marriage certificate available in the United States was in the hands of her abusive husband, who refused to turn it over to us.”

Although the pro bono team attempted to procure another copy of Ms. G’s marriage certificate directly from Burkina Faso, it unfortunately did not arrive in time for the interview and the asylum officer was unwilling to wait.  As a result, Ms. G was directly placed into deportation proceedings.

Disappointed but undeterred, the Cleary Gottlieb associates began preparing Ms. G to present her asylum claim before an immigration judge. According to Clay:

“We tried to be sensitive to Ms. G’s emotions and give her as much support as possible because we knew that having to relive the traumatic experiences of her past by telling her story yet again would be very challenging for her.” 

Ms. G and the pro bono team were confident and ready to argue the merits of her case at her first scheduled immigration court hearing, but unfortunately the hearing was adjourned.

Moving forward

The merits hearing finally took place in 2016, nearly two years after her asylum office interview. At Ms. G’s merits hearing, opposing counsel made the surprising decision to defer to the judge for a decision without requiring Ms. G to testify.

The judge remarked that the team’s presentation of Ms. G’s asylum application was so strong he would grant it on the existing record alone, pending routine security clearances. The team is hopeful that Ms. G will finally be granted asylum at her next hearing later this year.

Sayoni Maitra, the Immigration Intervention Project Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families who worked with the Cleary Gottlieb pro bono team, shared that Ellie, Clay, Jessica, and Marion are being recognized because of the “great compassion, encouragement, and emotional support” that they provided to Ms. G “[t]hrough a long and arduous immigration process.” Sayoni added that “the team’s outstanding preparation of Ms. G’s asylum application was so impressive that even opposing counsel agreed to forego testimony, sparing Ms. G the trauma of retelling her painful past in court.”

When asked to reflect on the most meaningful part of their experience as Ms. G’s pro bono attorneys, the Cleary Gottlieb team marveled at Ms. G’s tremendous strength and growth as an individual. “Ms. G has remained resilient, calm, and composed throughout an extraordinarily difficult process,” said Jessica.

“She graduated from college in Burkina Faso and has since been taking additional classes in the United States to learn English and develop a career here. With counseling from Sanctuary for Families, Ms. G has gotten back on her feet. Seeing her remarkable progress over the years has been so rewarding.”

When asked to reflect on her experience working with the Cleary Gottlieb pro bono team, Ms. G said “I want to thank Clayton, Ellie, Jessica, and Marion for the work they did for my case. They were helpful in many ways in my life in the United States and I will always be grateful to them.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton’s outstanding pro bono work.  Learn more about the event here.  If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Erin Meyer is the Pro Bono Manager at Proskauer Rose LLP and was formerly a senior associate at Hogan Lovells US LLP.  She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond event.

What my internship taught me about nonprofit work

Sanctuary for Families Development Intern, Adaiya Grandberry, reflects on her time at Sanctuary as she prepares to head back to school.

My first college internship

Two months  more like two weeks. It’s setting in that my time at Sanctuary for Families has come to an end and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

As my first internship coming out of my freshman year of college, and one that was at a leading service providing nonprofit no less, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. My immediate reaction upon arriving on my first day was ‘wow’.

‘Wow’, not only at my work, but ‘wow’ at the work Sanctuary for Families does as a whole — at the dedication of Sanctuary’s staff and at the way that the departments come together to make it all happen. From social work to legal representation to volunteer coordination to event planning (the list goes on), it amazed me how many programs function within Sanctuary for Families and how well-established each program is — all in the context of a nonprofit.

Sanctuary for Families challenged my perception of nonprofits

What do you think of when you think of a nonprofit?

Well, I imagined a small organization, with few staff. I imagined a small group of people, all focused on one central program. I imagined that small group of people, all more concerned with figuring out how they’ll make it to the next fiscal year rather than the needs of the clients they serve. I was wrong.

Sanctuary for Families is a nonprofit that has sustained itself. Money doesn’t come easy in the nonprofit world, but Sanctuary manages to dedicate 85 cents of every dollar raised towards its programs and to its community.

During my time at Sanctuary, I worked closely with the Institutional Giving and Communications teams. In learning about the grant-writing process, I gained greater insight into all the programs that really distinguish Sanctuary from other service providing organizations. As I began writing grant proposals myself, I began to better understand what Sanctuary is really about.

What Sanctuary for Families is really about

Sanctuary for Families creates a ‘sanctuary’ for clients by offering safe spaces to people from all backgrounds, races, sexual identities, abilities and religions. Sanctuary is about developing change-makers and empowering individuals in the community to determine their own lives. Sanctuary provides the tools, the people and the support system for clients to overcome whatever gender violence they’ve experienced.

Although much of what I’ve learned about is difficult to take in, it is also critical for me to understand. This experience will push me to question and evaluate how institutions claim to “serve” and create “social impact” in their communities. It has also pushed me to re-evaluate my life and goals.

What does this mean for my career and the path I choose? I have no idea.

But one thing that I am sure of is this: Sanctuary is genuinely and completely committed to its community and to its mission.

And I am so incredibly thankful for that.

An open letter to men: finding your fit in the feminist movement

Intern Adaiya Granberry asked men at Sanctuary how they strive to be allies and feminists.

Dear Feminist Men and Male-Identified Folks,

As a woman living in a country of systematic male supremacy and socialized male dominance, the feminist movement is relevant to me. When women’s inequality is sexualized, women’s pain is profited from, women’s bodies are dehumanized, and women’s lives are taken away, I get angry. That is my motivation for interning this summer at Sanctuary for Families.

Yet, as a developing feminist, I push myself to ask how I can involve myself in other movements that I don’t, at least on the surface, identify with. I recognize that the overarching systems of power perpetuate all of the inequalities within our society today, not just for women, but for the people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, and the poor.

Our struggles are, in my belief, inextricable because we are all the “othered.”

At Sanctuary, I am motivated everyday by the passion of those around me. This organization is dedicated to fighting against gender-based violence, and through that, fights against the institutionalized beliefs that women’s bodies are not their own.

I find it inspiring that the large majority of employees are women. We fight this fight because we live this life. We can easily relate to the experiences of our clients because we can see ourselves on the other side. We very well may have been on that side at another time in our lives.

But what about the men? And yes, they do exist at Sanctuary, but my question to these feminist men is, why? Why do you care? What motivates you? How do men involve themselves in a fight that may seemingly not affect them?

Who better to answer these questions than the men of Sanctuary themselves?

When considering how we can reshape power relationships in society, we cannot simply exclude men (no matter how much we want to.) “Men’s voices, unfortunately, are still necessary,” says Archil Sakhiashvili, an Administrative Associate in our Clinical Department.

I have to agree with Archil. In any social justice fight, the truth is that we need allies and we can’t do it by ourselves.

As an ally, it is crucial to know your role—know your boundaries, know your place, and don’t violate that line. As Mark Yrigoyen, the Director of DVIEP, says, a man’s role is “to listen for ways to assist.”

Men, as allies in this fight, you must do your part by first understanding what is needed from you. If you jump to conclusions about what needs to be done, you are taking up space and exercising your own male privilege. “It’s not a crusade, but an everyday thing,” Mark continues.

Kyle Dandelet, a Senior Staff Attorney in our Immigration Intervention Project, says men must do their part by “try[ing] to influence other men’s actions and expectations within their own spheres.” A key role men can play is leading conversation and introducing issues of gender violence into male-dominated spaces.

In these arenas, feminist men, it is your job, as an ally to women, to be an advocate. This is where you can, and should, exploit your space of privilege to take a stand against gender violence. We need men to take the opportunities to speak up where women cannot.

Lastly, I spoke with one of my supervisors, John Wyeth, the Director of Institutional Giving. “Men and boys must be self-reflective and conscious of the ways [we] act,” says John. Some may be “perpetuating abusive behavior” and this “becomes normalized and the fabric of [our] community.”

Men need to educate themselves. Men need to be cognizant of their own acts of violence and teach their sons and nephews and grandchildren the same. Men need to listen to women’s needs, and follow suit, because in this fight, our voices, thoughts, and ideas come first.

Men, you must understand why women are fighting gender violence, inform yourself about the too commonly shared experiences of women, and bring our words to the forums only you have access to—because as John says, “domestic violence and gender violence are not just women’s issues…they absolutely affect all of us.”

Yours Truly,

Adaiya Granberry is a summer intern at Sanctuary for Families. She comes to Sanctuary through Duke University’s Moxie Project