Tahirih Justice Center

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Tahirih Justice Center
Type NGO
Founded 1997, United States
Headquarters Falls Church, Virginia, United States
Key people Layli Miller-Muro
Industry Human rights
Products Legal services, public policy advocacy.
Revenue 3,537,900.59 USD (2006)[1]
Slogan Promoting Justice for Women & Girls Worldwide
Website www.tahirih.org

The Tahirih Justice Center, known simply as Tahirih, is a United States-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides pro bono direct legal services and social and medical service referrals to immigrant women and girls who are fleeing from gender-based violence and persecution. Tahirih helps women who are attempting to escape from such abuse as domestic violence, human trafficking, torture and rape. The organization also conducts public policy initiatives designed to achieve legislative change for women fleeing from human rights abuses, to highlight problems faced by immigrant women in the United States, and to end the possible exploitation of mail-order brides by international marriage brokers. In 2007, the Tahirih Justice Center won the The Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.[2]

Layli Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center in 1997 following a well-publicized asylum case in which she was involved as a student attorney.[3] Miller-Muro later co-wrote a book with the client she had aided and used her portion of the proceeds for the initial funding of Tahirih. As of 2005, the organization had assisted more than 4,500 women and children fleeing from a wide variety of abuses.[4] The organization played a significant role in the passage of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA), which was signed by President Bush in early 2006, incorporating it into the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); the Act gives foreign women important information about prospective American husbands.

The organization is named after Ṭáhirih, an influential female poet during the time of the Báb who campaigned for women's rights. Tahirih is a Bahá’í-inspired organization, although its clients and employees vary widely in ethnicity, religious identification, and nationality.

History[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center opened in September 1997 and has become one of the most prominent organizations in the United States for women seeking justice from human rights abuses.[5] Tahirih continually expanded its number of annual clients and hired more employees as the demand for its services grew in the late 1990s and into the next decade.

Beginning[edit]

Fauziya Kassindja was a Togolese teenager who fled her native land in 1994 to escape from a forced polygamous marriage and a tribal practice of female genital cutting.[6] She went through Ghana and Germany before arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where she was detained and incarcerated by INS officials. She spent the next year and a half in various prisons throughout the Eastern United States while her legal team attempted to obtain asylum for her. In a case that made history in immigration law, she was finally granted asylum in June 1996 by the Board of Immigration Appeals.[7] Gender-based violence had been established as grounds for seeking asylum in the U.S.[8]

Miller-Muro had been a student attorney in Fauziya's case and the two became strong friends.[9] The successful outcome led her to co-author with Ms. Kassindja the book Do they hear you when you cry? (1998), about the latter's case and life. After Miller-Muro discovered that few organizations offered legal assistance to women seeking asylum or refugee status in the Washington, D.C. area, she founded the Tahirih Justice Center in 1997 to build on the accomplishments of Matter of Kasinga and to provide extensive legal coverage of immigrant women and girls fleeing to the U.S. from gender-based violence.

Growth[edit]

Tahirih's creation and growth was fueled by the widespread abuses suffered by women and girls around the world and the limited resources available to them when seeking protection in the United States.[10] According to the United Nations, two million women undergo female genital cutting in Africa every year.[11] A recent CIA report estimated that between 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are brought to the U.S. every year under false pretenses and are forced to work as prostitutes, abused laborers or servants.[12] UNICEF estimates that more than 200,000 children are enslaved by cross-border smuggling in West and Central Africa.[12] Although Tahirih can only provide immediate assistance to immigrant women and girls that are already within U.S. borders, its cases are representative of the types of violence from which women and girls are fleeing. The organization grew consistently over the years: in 2001, it helped a total of 618 people.[13] In 2002, Tahirih helped 681 people[14] and by 2003 this number jumped to more than 700.[15] The continual success of competent legal representation prompted Tahirih's enlargement. The last publicly reported rate of approval for asylum applications in the U.S. before 2001 was 23.3%.[13] Applications written by the Tahirih Justice Center had a 98% success rate,[13] a figure it continues to maintain. The organization hired its first paid staff in August 1998 and had expanded to 12 employees by early 2004.[15] As of 2006 the employee organizational structure has grown, and Tahirih has nearly doubled its office space in Falls Church, Virginia, all while assisting more than 4,500 people since opening its doors.[4] Tahirih clients come from five continents—North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and from nations such as Mexico, Argentina, Algeria, Mongolia, Turkey, South Africa, Iran, and Syria.[4]

Goals and organization[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center is "founded on the belief that the achievement of full equality between women and men is necessary for society to progress."[15] This founding principle reflects a statement[16] by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who said:[17]

The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings...become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.

As part of this mission, the organization seeks to promote justice for women and girls worldwide and helps the persecuted among them acquire legal protection in the United States.[18] Tahirih works towards this goal primarily by litigating in gender-based asylum, gender-based persecution, and domestic violence cases. The organization has urged what it believes are repressive or disinterested governments throughout the world to take responsibility for acts of gender-based violence and persecution by providing victims with shelters and ensuring prompt, responsive police forces, all while doing more to eliminate overt and harmful policies designed to suppress and incite fear among women.[19]

The Tahirih Justice Center is governed by a 12-member Board of Directors that oversees the organization's functions. Each board member serves a two-year term and has the option to remain for an indefinite number of terms if repeatedly elected. Board members are individuals usually concerned or involved with issues pertinent to Tahirih.[20] A 14-member Board of Advisors, composed of lawyers, judges, and human rights activists, helps the organization by making recommendations.

Strategy and programs[edit]

To fulfill its objectives, the Tahirih Justice Center is involved in legal services, fundraising, public policy advocacy, and reaches out to other international groups and organizations.

Legal services[edit]

Tahirih conducts a wide array of legal services to help its clients. The Pro Bono Network, a network of pro bono attorneys and referral resources for clients, is the largest and most important. In 2003, Tahirih received US$1,708,276.81 in donated legal services from pro bono lawyers representing 31 Tahirih clients.[15] In 2004, 72% of Tahirih's income came from donated professional services with slightly more than 28% from grants, corporations, and individuals.[4] The program offers individual and group training for pro bono attorneys, and connects clients with other community resources such as peer support groups, medical and mental health services, housing, and public benefits. The Pro Bono Network allows staff to engage in educational initiatives to immigrant community groups, social service programs, and legal service providers. These are designed to highlight Tahirih's services and the special rights and needs of immigrant women and girls fleeing violence.

The organization aids clients holistically, trying to connect women with community resources that may improve the quality of their lives in addition to dealing with their legal problems. Tahirih's referral programs direct women to literacy programs, English language instruction, day care, and job skills training. Tahirih maintains a core of medical volunteers who evaluate the conditions of clients to support their legal claims and assists clients in accessing psychological counseling in the United States.[21]

Fundraising[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center holds the Annual Fundraising Benefit to highlight its accomplishments over the year and promote its issues by having former clients share their stories. The Benefit features speakers closely associated with Tahirih issues and awards to recognize important and groundbreaking work in helping women fleeing from gender-based violence. For the 2005 Annual Benefit, Queen Noor of Jordan was the keynote speaker.[22]

The Center founded the Washington Lawyers' Network (WLN) to mobilize and sustain a philanthropic network of Washington, D.C.-area attorneys that promote awareness and provide funding for Tahirih. In 2003, Tahirih raised over $12,000 through WLN fundraising events and membership drives.[15] However, the vast majority of the organization's revenue comes from non-fundraising sources.

Public policy advocacy[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center conducts national and regional advocacy campaigns to educate the public and law enforcement institutions about the threats faced by immigrant women and girls who do not have easy access to legal services. Tahirih employees have given presentations in universities and public forums throughout the United States on issues ranging from the equality of men and women in religious traditions to gender-based violence and persecution.

Tahirih has highlighted the possible dangers of recent, post-September 11, 2001 attacks United States Congressional initiatives to enforce federal civil immigration law that may make immigrant women reluctant to report crime to authorities for fear of deportation. Specifically, Tahirih is concerned that the deputization of state and local police as immigration agents by the CLEAR and Homeland Security Enhancement Acts would increase the barriers some women face to reach safety.[23] After the CLEAR Act was reintroduced in June 2005, Tahirih spearheaded a sign-on letter to Congress from nearly 100 organizations that advocate for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes.[4] Tahirih works with other non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International to promote its issues and advocate on legislative agenda.[24]

One of Tahirih's largest and most successful public policy initiatives has been the Campaign to End the Exploitation and Abuse of Women by International Marriage Brokers. A 2003 Tahirih survey of 175 legal service providers revealed that more than 50% were serving or had served women who met their spouses through a broker.[25] Tahirih joined other like-minded organizations in this campaign and led a four-year effort that culminated in the passage of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) when it was attached to the bill that reauthorized VAWA.[26] IMBRA provides foreign women with important information about their prospective American husbands, such as whether the men have violent criminal histories. The law mandates that foreign women know the rights and resources available to domestic violence victims in the United States. Through this law, foreign women who marry American men will be given critical tools to protect themselves and their children from domestic violence.

International outreach[edit]

Tahirih staff have traveled to more than 60 cities in six continents to consult with government officials and non-governmental organizations about better ways to use the law to protect women from violence.[27] In Brazil, Tahirih met with NGOs and the Minister of Justice to encourage cooperation on the better application of laws to protect women from domestic violence. In Ghana, Tahirih works with NGOs and government officials to explore ways that the law can be more effectively applied in remote parts of the country to protect young girls from Troikisi—a form of ritual sexual slavery in which young girls are given to priests as reparation for crimes committed by family members. In New Zealand, Tahirih participates in meetings and gives presentations to the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Women's Affairs, the New Zealand Human Rights Network, and groups of women lawyers and advocates.[27]

Issues[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center deals with a number of human rights issues related to women and girls. The organization focuses on cases that fall within the scope of the its mission and goals. In particular, accepted requests must involve the protection of women from persecution, although men may be eligible for assistance to protect their female family members from abuse.[28] Women who wish to receive Tahirih's services free of charge must demonstrate that they are not able to afford to pay for such services.[28] When requests for assistance fall outside Tahirih's scope, staff members attempt to locate other legal service providers who can offer the prospective client assistance.

Domestic violence[edit]

Main article: Domestic violence

Women who come to the United States with immigrant husbands or who marry American citizens once they are in the country are vulnerable to domestic violence because of their unfamiliarity with legal rights in the United States. Many Tahirih clients are women who have suffered from domestic violence and whose cases can be covered under VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA allows immigrants who can prove they have been victims of domestic abuse and would otherwise be able to gain legal status the ability to self-petition for a green card.[29] Tahirih attempts to help these women by making them lawful permanent residents independent of their husbands. Tahirih has initiated the Battered Immigrant Women Advocacy Project to advocate before the INS and immigration courts on behalf of battered immigrant women seeking lawful permanent residence.[30]

Female genital cutting[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center considers female genital cutting, which "comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons,"[31] a violation of human rights.[21] The Tahirih Justice Center's pioneering work in gender-based asylum law attempts to find protection for women fleeing from the practice to the United States.[21] Tahirih staff have received media requests to comment on matters surrounding the issue, and the organization frequently publicizes the issue in annual reports, brochures, and other informational material.

"Mail-order brides"[edit]

In recent years, the organization has worked to protect women from abroad who are unfamiliar with the English language and the U.S. legal system from abusive marital relationships that have been arranged by international marriage brokers.[32] The international marriage broker industry has grown in response to a demand by American men, some of whom turn out to be sexual predators, for traditional wives from countries such as the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine. Tahirih's Campaign to End Exploitation by International Marriage Brokers advocates for the accountability of marriage agencies, seeks legislative change, and engages in litigation and public outreach to protect women from abuse.[33] The Tahirih Justice Center was instrumental in Washington, D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter's successful fraud lawsuit against international marriage broker Encounters International on behalf of Nataliya Fox.[34] The Tahirih Justice Center helped draft the International Marriage and Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) and continues to work with other human rights organizations to ensure its implementation.[35]

Trafficking of women[edit]

The Tahirih Justice Center works within the legal confines established by Congress to ensure the safety of women and girls who are trafficked ("the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery")[36] to the U.S. The organization has pushed for legislation and regulations to protect and assist trafficking victims, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Women Immigrants Safe Harbor Act (WISH).[5] Partly through Tahirih's efforts, in the 2005 fiscal year, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued 112 T-visas to foreign survivors of human trafficking identified in the United States.[37]

Criticism and response[edit]

Criticism of the Tahirih Justice Center and other like-minded organizations often involves the manner in which they portray information. In particular, Tahirih's work against international marriage brokers, especially its leading role in supporting IMBRA,[38] has drawn castigation from some who believe American males are being characterized in an unfairly negative light.[39] International marriage broker agencies cite the alleged low levels of divorce among their clients, compared with the American national average, as proof of success.[40] Tahirih counters that many of the men who use these brokers are repeat abusers looking for their next victim.[15] Tahirih claims that international marriage brokers market and advertise mostly to men who are potentially dangerous. Miller-Muro, Tahirih's Executive Director, stated that "The agencies have a financial incentive to ensure the satisfaction of their paying clients — the men — but there is no comparable incentive to safeguard the woman."[41]

Scholars are worried about the mental images and conceptions that the general public forms about the origins of practices that Tahirih condemns. When describing the Matter of Kasinga and the associated media attention, historian Charles Piot was concerned about the perpetration of possibly negative and racist stereotypes about Africa.[42] In an analysis of several New York Times articles about the case, Piot called the "evocation of images of the immutable nature of patriarchal tradition" in Africa "extraordinary."[43] Tahirih argues that several cultural practices throughout the world have adverse health effects that often go unnoticed because of poor education among the local community.[14] Tahirih posits that many of the subjects who undergo practices such as female genital cutting are uninformed about the potential pain and other consequences that result from the procedure.[14] Since Tahirih views these issues as ones relating to human rights, it believes in the protection of individuals who may experience these acts.[14]

Notes[edit]

  1. Tahirih Justice Center 2006 Company Budget.
  2. Tahirih Justice Center Wins The Washington Post 2007 Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management 13th Annual Award Announced June 20
  3. Fauziya Kassindja, Do They Hear You When You Cry. p. 171. The case name became Matter of Kasinga, because Fauziya did not know if it was proper to correct the immigration official who misspelled her last name on her entry into the United States.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 2004–2005 Annual Report Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved September 24 2006
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tahirih Justice Center HumanTrafficking.org, Retrieved August 2 2006
  6. Fauziya Kassindja, Do They Hear You When You Cry. p. 119–31
  7. Kassindja p. 508
  8. Kassindja p. 516. "There have been some encouraging developments as a result of Fauziya's struggle for justice. For example, there has been some progress in recognizing that gender-specific harms, such as FGM [female genital mutilation or cutting], should qualify a woman asylum seeker for protection. Not all judges and INS trial attorneys enthusiastically embrace the principle, but many do, and Board of Immigration Appeal's decision established binding precedent, upon which other cases may rely."
  9. Kassindja p. 158–59
  10. Kassindja p. 526
  11. Female genital mutilation United Nations Children's Fund, Retrieved July 28 2006
  12. 12.0 12.1 Fact sheet on human trafficking United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Retrieved July 28 2006
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 2000 & 2001 Annual Report Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved July 13 2006
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 2002 Annual Report Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved July 13 2006
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 2003 Annual Report Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved July 13 2006
  16. About the Logo Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved August 4 2006
  17. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1982) [1912]. The Promulgation of Universal Peace (Hardcover ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. pp. pp. 375. ISBN 0-87743-172-8. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PUP/pup-112.html#pg375. 
  18. Tahirih Justice Center Directory for Refugee Services, Retrieved August 4 2006
  19. CVC 2006 Charity Application Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign, Retrieved August 4 2006
  20. Board of Directors, Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved August 2 2006
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Fauziya Kassindja, Do They Hear You When You Cry. p. 526
  22. Tahirih's Winter 2006 Newsletter Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved August 2 2006
  23. Miller-Muro and Jeanne Smoot So-Called 'Anti-Terrorism' Measures Harm Battered Immigrant Women Center for American Progress, Retrieved August 4 2006
  24. Stop Violence Against Women Amnesty International USA, Retrieved August 2 2006. "AIUSA has joined the Tahirih Justice Center in an effort to curb abuses related to IMBs [international marriage brokers]."
  25. New Law Puts Brakes on International Bride Brokers Women's eNews, Retrieved July 25 2006
  26. Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization, National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, Retrieved August 2 2006
  27. 27.0 27.1 Public Policy Advocacy Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved August 2 2006
  28. 28.0 28.1 Criteria for Assistance Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved August 4 2006
  29. Most abused immigrants unaware of remedies Amanda Keim, Retrieved August 2 2006
  30. The Tahirih Justice Center Inventio, Retrieved August 4 2006
  31. Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, ed. Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives p. 5. The definition comes from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund, and the United Nations Population Fund.
  32. Jeanne Smoot Marriage broker law seeks to protect readily exploited women Cumberland Times-News, Retrieved August 4 2006
  33. Campaign to Stop Exploitation by International Marriage Brokers Tahirih Justice Center, Retrieved August 4 2006
  34. Mail-Order Misery MSNBC News, Retrieved August 8 2006.
  35. New Poll By Lifetime Television/Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., Shows Americans Support Harsher Penalties for Human Trafficking and More Protection for 'Mail Order Brides' ICR, Retrieved August 4 2006
  36. Trafficking in Persons Report United States Department of State, Retrieved July 26 2006
  37. 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report United States Department of State, Retrieved July 26 2006
  38. Mail-order brides find the U.S. a land of milk & horror Bayanihan, Retrieved July 27 2006. "Tahirih has been the leading force behind the upcoming congressional initiative that would regulate the industry."
  39. Mail Order Bride Law Brands U.S. Men Abusers Wendy McElroy, Retrieved July 27 2006. "What view of the American man does the [IMBRA] broadcast to the world? American men are so predatory and violent that the U.S. government must protect foreign women by providing police checks before allowing the men to say "hello.""
  40. Mail-order brides find the U.S. a land of milk & horror Bayanihan, Retrieved July 27 2006. "Encounters' Web site says that the agency has facilitated almost 250 marriages, with only 25 divorces." (as of 2003)
  41. Mail Order Brides Find U.S. Land of Milk, Battery Women's eNews, Retrieved July 27 2006
  42. Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, ed. Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives p. 224. "...they [the arguments by the lawyers and the media] evoked and inserted themselves into a genealogy of racist stereotypes about Africa that have long mediated the West's relationship to the continent. In so doing, they glossed over complex local realities and once again fictionalized and fetishized Africa as the West's Other."
  43. Abusharaf p. 231

References[edit]

  • ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982. ISBN 0-87743-172-8.
  • Abusharaf, Rogaia Mustafa, ed. Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8122-3924-5.
  • Kassindja, Fauziya and Miller-Muro, Layli. Do They Hear You When You Cry. New York: Random House Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-385-31994-0.

External links[edit]


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