The legal travails of an Albanian refugee named Johana Cece illustrate a persistent obstacle facing female refugees who have escaped domestic abuse, sex trafficking, or forced marriage in their home countries and made it to the U.S.: Because no presidential administration has ever clearly spelled out how the “particular social group” category applies to women, a woman’s fate usually relies on the whims of the judge hearing her case.
To Musalo and the rest of the refugee advocate community, if the asylum statute were always applied correctly, women would have no trouble convincing judges that they are targeted based on their gender, and that that is grounds for an asylum claim. In fact, clarifying the statute by issuing a new, joint rule from the Department of Justice and Homeland Security is one of the Obama administration’s unmet priorities.
“Female genital cutting—that, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a court that doesn’t think that’s a basis for asylum,” said Simona Agnolucci '06, an intellectual property and commercial attorney who represents women seeking refugee status pro bono. “But in the case of forced marriage, there’s only one circuit court that has recognized that as a form of persecution. Domestic violence is still in flux. Sex-trafficking is still in flux.”
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