Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

Project: Advocating for Women Refugees Detained in Texas

The number of women and children fleeing violence in their homelands and crossing the U.S.-Mexico border reached unprecedented numbers in 2014: 68,631 unaccompanied children and 68,684 family units (mostly mothers with children), translating in 2015 to a spike in the demand for CGRS’s expertise and assistance in advocating for their legal protection.

In 2015, 39,399 unaccompanied children and 38,639 migrant women and children arrived at our borders—a decrease from 2014 but still the second highest number in recent years—and the demand for CGRS’s expertise remains enormous. The vast majority of these recently-arrived women and children are fleeing domestic violence and other gender-based harms, as well as gang violence, and attorneys stepping up to represent them have flooded CGRS with requests for assistance.

Even though a federal judge recently ruled the Administration’s current use of family detention is unlawful as applied to children, no such ruling has been issued for adult migrant women, and women (with and without children) are still being warehoused in locked facilities located far from established legal services providers.

CGRS staff attorneys have trained and mentored volunteer advocates in several detention centers, including the 2400-bed facility in Dilley, Texas. We propose here to focus on the Eloy, Arizona detention center—a mixed-gender facility that houses around five hundred women, including many female asylum seekers with domestic-violence-based claims.

The Eloy Immigration Court, which hears the asylum claims of the women from the nearby center, has one of the highest denial rates in the country—94% while the national average hovers at around 50%.  Our project involves:

  • Visits to Eloy to participate in Know Your Rights trainings and distribute our pro se manuals for asylum and other protection claims for survivors of domestic violence;
  • Training of pro bono attorneys and local legal services providers working in Eloy o improve representation of women with domestic violence claims; and
  • Ongoing monitoring of individual women’s asylum cases at Eloy for possible amicus support or litigation on key issues.

Through these efforts, we hope to improve legal capacity and outcomes for women who are detained at Eloy and seeking asylum based on domestic violence, and to impact the way in which judges view and decide these cases.

The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) protects the fundamental human rights of refugee women, children, LGBT individuals, and others who flee persecution in their home countries. CGRS is the only organization providing technical assistance and materials specifically for asylum claims resulting from domestic violence and other gender-based harms, and our expertise in gender and children’s asylum has gained national and international recognition. Our expertise derives from our 16 years of pioneering the standards applicable to gender asylum—the right to asylum of women fleeing gender-based harms—as well as more recent work focusing on how the advances in the law that we have made in women’s cases are applicable to children’s asylum claims.