Asylum & Refugees

Since its founding, our program has engaged in pioneering policy advocacy and litigation around issues in asylum law. Amicus briefs filed by our program have led to ground-breaking decisions in the areas of gender asylum and child advocacy, and we continue to file litigation to expand and protect the rights of asylum-seekers.

Direct Representation

We offer direct representation to asylum-seekers through the Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Clinic and the Harvard Representation Initiative. Here are the stories of some of our past clients:

  • Jane fled to the U.S. with her daughter to save them from her abusive spouse. Attorneys and clinical students helped Jane build her case and she was granted asylum.
  • A young Haitian political activist, who was targeted by political opponents for her attempts to expose electoral corruption and advocate for women’s rights, was granted asylum after working with students and supervisors at GBLS.
  • “Isabel” and her children came to the U.S. seeking protection from corrupt government officials in her home country of Guatemala. After much hard work by HIRC attorneys and students, she and her family were granted withholding of removal.
  • Carla,” a Honduran woman who was a survivor of domestic violence, was granted asylum after our team submitted nearly eight hundred pages of evidence.

Litigation

Sylvestre v. Garland (vacating Matter of K-S-E-) (06/21)
This appeal of a precedential Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) opinion principally concerns the “firm resettlement” bar to asylum. On appeal, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) agreed to vacate the precedential decision and remand the case. You can find a practice advisory on Matter of K-S-E- here

G-S-M- v. U.S. Attorney General (05/21)
This brief argues that gender-based violence can constitute persecution “on account of” a protected ground within the meaning of the refugee definition.

V-C- v. Garland (04/21)
This amicus brief concerns the proper understanding of “Material Evidence of Changed Circumstances” in motions to reopen asylum applications. On appeal, DOJ agreed to remand the case.

In the Matter of M-N-F-G- (04/21)
In this brief, our Program addresses the cognizability of “Guatemalan women” as a particular social group.

Molina-Diaz v. Wilkinson (02/21)
This favorable decision grants the petition of Ms. Molina-Diaz and remands for the BIA to allow her to produce the required corroborating evidence for her withholding and Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) claims.

Pangea Legal Services II v. DHS – ComplaintTRO Request, Preliminary Injunction (12/20-01/21)
This complaint and Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) were filed regarding a new rule that would restrict asylum eligibility. Our Program represents plaintiffs in the lawsuit that was filed. A preliminary injunction was granted following our TRO request.

Pangea Legal Services et al. v. DHS – ComplaintDecision, Litigation Update & FAQs (11/20-12/20)
Our Program represents plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) regarding a new rule that drastically restricts asylum eligibility. The decision issues a nationwide injunction against a new rule that would restrict asylum eligibility. There is also a document that provides background information, updates, and a Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) section on the litigation.

M-A-C- v. Barr – Addendum – Part I & Part II (11/20)
This brief argues that “Honduran women” constitute a cognizable particular social group for asylum.

G-D-D-O- v. U.S. Attorney General – Addendum – Part I & Part II (10/20)
This brief argues that “Salvadoran women” constitute a cognizable particular social group for asylum.

F-G- v. Barr – Addendum Part I, Part II, & Part III (10/20)
This amicus brief asserts that gender constitutes a cognizable particular social group for asylum and statutory withholding of removal cases.

Al Otro Lado Inc. et al v. Wolf (10/20)
This brief argues that the U.S.’s illegal “metering” practices at the southern border constitute an actionable violation of international law under the Alien Tort Statute.

Vasques v. Wolf (08/20)
This brief addresses the dangerous effects of the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Diaz Reynoso v. Barr – Decision (08/20)
In this case, the Ninth Circuit reversed the Board in a published, precedent decision. Our Program had previously filed an amicus brief on this case.

J-B-B-C- v. Wolf (06/20)
This brief challenges the Trump administration’s restriction of asylum procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

De Pena-Paniagua v. Barr – Decision (04/20)
The First Circuit recognized that ‘Dominican women’ could comprise a cognizable “particular social group” under the Refugee Act, and that the Board erred in applying Matter of A-B- to this case.

U.T. et al. v. Barr (03/20)
This brief challenges the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and argues against the designation of Guatemala as a “safe third country.”

Diaz Reynoso v. Barr (02/20)
This amicus brief argues that gender constitutes a cognizable particular social group for asylum and statutory withholding of removal cases.

DHS v. Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam (01/20)
This brief challenges the expedited removal of bona fide asylum-seekers.

In the Matter of A-B- (01/20)
In this brief, HIRC and GBLS address the cognizability of “Salvadoran women” as a particular social group.

A-C-T- v. U.S. Attorney General (2020)
This order grants a joint motion to remand after the government agreed to return the case to the Board following the filing of our Program’s opening brief.

Kenia Martinez Mejia v. Barr (10/19)
This brief challenges a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision on a gender-based asylum claim. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the appeal on August 27, 2020.

In the Matter of [Redacted] (06/19)
This favorable decision granted the asylum application of a woman from Guatemala.

De Pena-Paniagua v. Barr (04/19)
This brief asserts that particular social groups defined by gender or gender-plus-nationality are cognizable.

BIA decision (01/19)
HIRC filed a petition for review challenging the Board’s denial of a motion to reopen a removal order. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Board, which reopened the case.

In the Matter of A-B- (03/18).
This brief, filed jointly with AILA, Human Rights First, and KIND, argues that immutable characteristics like sex and gender are protected categories within the terms of the refugee definition.

Amicus Brief on Material Support Bar (04/17)
This brief submitted to the BIA argues that giving the word “material” independent meaning will help ensure that “bona fide” refugees who pose no threat to the U.S. and are otherwise eligible for refugee protection, are not barred from asylum and withholding of removal and in violation of the U.S. obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Negusie v. Holder (2016, 2017)
These briefs argue that there should be a duress defense to the persecutor of other bars to asylum.

Matter of D-P- (11/15)
HIRC and GBLS successfully argued that social activism against gangs constituted political opinion.

Ordonez-Quino v. Holder (07/14)
This decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals found past persecution in the case of a Mayan man, based on the long history of genocide in Guatemala and related racist mistreatment.

Jose Fuentes Colocho v. U.S. Attorney General (11/13)
This brief argues that MS-13 is a political entity and that Mr. Fuentes-Colocho’s opposition to MS-13 constitutes political opinion.

Mejilla-Romero v. Holder (08/10)
This decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the importance of a child-sensitive approach to asylum.

Policy Advocacy

Comments on Asylum Procedures and Credible Fear Screenings (10/21)
Our program, in collaboration with the HLS Immigration Project and the Immigration Coalition of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, submitted comments on a proposed rule regarding asylum procedures and credible fear screenings.

Comments on Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal (10/20)
Our program, in partnership with the HLS Immigration Project, submitted comments on a proposed rule regarding accelerated application submission and adjudication timelines.

Comments on Changes to I-589 Form (08/20)
Our program submitted comments in opposition to proposed changes to the I-589 form (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal).

Comments on Security Bars and Processing (08/20)
Our program submitted comments expressing opposition to a proposed ban on asylum grants in light of COVID-19.

Comments on Asylum Regulations (07/20)
Our program, in collaboration with the HLS Immigration Project, submitted comments on proposed regulations to asylum issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Comments on Asylum Regulations (01/20)
We submitted comments urging the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to withdraw proposed amendments on procedures and bars to asylum.

Hearing request (07/19)
HIRC filed a hearing request with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to discuss the human rights abuses of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hearing request (10/17)
HIRC filed a hearing request with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to discuss the human rights situation of refugee claimants under the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States.

Emergency Hearing on Executive Orders (02/17)
This request, granted by the Commission, raised concerns about the Safe Third Country Agreement, and made the case that the U.S. is no longer a “safe” place for asylum seekers.

The Impact of President Trump’s Executive Orders on Asylum Seekers (02/17)
This report investigates the various ways in which the Executive Orders from President Trump have affected asylum seekers. Issues highlighted include delays in adjudication, discrimination against asylum seekers, and denial of family reunification.

Syrian Refugee Resettlement Report (05/17)
This report, made possible by a grant from the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation and catalyzed by the situation facing Syrian refugees, contains extensive recommendations regarding the United States’ role in protecting vulnerable refugees, safeguarding foreign policy interests, advancing American job creation, and complying with humanitarian and legal obligations. The report is accompanied by an Executive Summary and Recommendations, as well as a corresponding compendium laws

Recent News

On October 29th, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas issued a memorandum announcing the termination of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols
On October 19th, our Program, in collaboration with the HLS Immigration Project and the Immigration Coalition of the Massachusetts Law
Our Program signed on to a complaint regarding the conduct of DHS agents at the US/Mexico border in Del Rio,