Post date: December 15, 2004

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic’s Women Refugees Project has submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case of Thomas v. Ashcroft. The brief urges the court to allow asylum in the United States based upon family membership. The case, which was heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, involves a woman whose family was subjected to attacks and whose lives were threatened because of racist actions taken by her father-in-law.

U.S. asylum law protects a person who may face serious harm if returned to her country if her fear is based on one of five grounds, one of which is “membership in a particular social group.” The Department of Justice has argued in its briefing that a family unit does not constitute a protected category. The case has broad implications for women and children applying for asylum protection in the United States.

The Women Refugees Project brief maintains that long-standing precedent from every federal circuit court of appeals has dictated that family is a fundamentally protected unit in society. It argues that for 20 years the Board of Immigration Appeals has granted asylum in such cases, citing an example from just last year where the Board held that a woman applicant, subjected to sexual and other violence owing to her father’s suspected political affiliations, was entitled to asylum.

“We are hopeful that the court will follow established precedent in this case,” commented Deborah Anker, lecturer on law and director of Harvard’s immigration and refugee clinical program.

Several first- and second-year students from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and Human Rights Program helped draft the Women Refugees Project brief, which was filed with the court two weeks ago.

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, located at the law school and at Greater Boston Legal Services, sponsors the Women Refugees Project, which combines representation of women asylum applicants with scholarship and policy analysis related to international women’s rights and the protection of the basic legal rights of women refugees. The project participated in developing the “Considerations for Asylum Officers Adjudicating the Asylum Claims of Women” issued by the immigration authorities in 1995, and has been engaged by the Justice Department in the training of immigration judges, asylum officers and supervisors on issues related to women’s asylum claims.