Gender Justice Initiative

Upholding the Rights of Immigrant Women

Immigrant women come to the United States for reasons as varied and dynamic as the women themselves. Some dream of better lives for themselves and their children. Some are seeking to reunify with spouses, parents, and children from whom they’ve been separated. Some are fleeing gender-based violence. Women come seeking education and opportunity, liberty and security.

The Gender Justice Initiative:

  • Provides legal consultations and representation to immigrant survivors of violence, helping them obtain permanent legal status so they can achieve autonomy and live safely in the United States.
  • Pursues federal litigation to expand protections for immigrant women.
  • Offers targeted training to enhance the legal community’s understanding of gender justice and recruits and supports pro bono attorneys who handle asylum and U visa/VAWA cases on behalf of immigrant women.
  • Conducts legal presentations in jails and detention centers to help women understand their rights and seek relief from deportation.
  • Advocates at the national, state, and local level for legislative and administrative reforms that advance gender justice for immigrants.
  • Collaborates with domestic violence agencies and shelters to provide referrals and assist immigrant victims of domestic violence in accessing services.

Confronting the issues

Immigrant women are integral to our communities. They support their families, start businesses, and nurture children and guide their integration into American society. At the same time, women face unique challenges in the U.S. immigration system. Gender-based violence like domestic violence, honor killings, forced marriage, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and rape are not always recognized as persecution and gender is often not recognized as a protected characteristic in asylum claims. Immigrant women who experience domestic violence in the United States often are victimized because they lack permanent immigration status. They are reluctant to report abuse or leave abusive relationships because they fear deportation and separation from their children.

Immigration enforcement practices marginalize women further by increasingly blurring the lines between federal immigration agents and state and local law enforcement officers. The 287(g) and Secure Communities programs destroy trust between immigrant communities and local police, leaving few options for immigrant women who need protection.

NIJC’s Gender Justice Initiative employs a comprehensive approach to protect the rights of immigrant women in the U.S. immigration system by providing legal representation, educating immigrant and legal communities, and advocating for systemic reform.

The Gender Justice Initiative’s Policy Platform:

  1. Promote recognition of the unique struggles immigrant women face and the value of their economic and social contributions to their families and communities
  2. Ensure immigrant women have equal and safe access to law enforcement officials, legal services, and relief
  3. Achieve recognition of gender-based asylum claims
  4. Keep all families together
  5. Provide protection for survivors of crime, domestic violence, and human trafficking

Photo credit: paggre/Creative Commons; Alexandra Strada

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In 2013, NIJC assisted an Albanian woman threatened by human trafficking to obtain asylum. Johana Cece won her case with a federal court decision that expands protection for survivors of gender-based violence and clarifies the asylum analysis in important ways that will impact thousands of victims of trafficking and gender-based violence seeking protection in the United States.

Impact: Refuge from a Violent Forced Marriage

Karina*, an 18-year-old Guinean, suffered horrific physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, including female genital mutilation, by the man her family forced her to marry. Karina's father abandoned her mother when Karina was very young. In his absence, her paternal uncles exercised their cultural right to choose her husband: a man three times Karina's age. Against her will, Karina became the man’s fourth wife. She escaped and entered the United States alone. The U.S. government arrested her and placed her in a shelter in Chicago.