Campaign in Defense of Asylum
Since our founding, MUA has always worked to support dignity and justice for people fleeing from gender-based violence. In the early 2000s, MUA members provided testimony to the U.S. Department of Justice in support of including immigration visas for survivors of violence and trafficking in 2003 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Since then, tens of thousands of immigrant survivors have qualified for such visas, and MUA has helped hundreds of women navigate the visa process.
The most recent iteration of our work around this issue is Welcome with Dignity, a national campaign founded in 2021 and which includes more than 50 organizations nationwide. MUA joined this campaign as an outgrowth of work we have been doing since 2017, when caravans of asylum seekers began arriving in the U.S.-Mexico border, and many of those asylum seekers ended up in immigration detention centers. After traumatic experiences in detention, and usually after being released with a painful ankle monitor and owing thousands of dollars in bond money, many asylum seekers ended up in the Bay Area, and many came to MUA seeking support.
To respond to the growing needs of asylum seekers, MUA founded our Defensoras program, a trauma healing and leadership development group for women whose lives have been impacted by detention and deportation, and too often by the immigration detention industry, which makes millions of dollars in profit from US contracts to detain asylum seekers and other migrants under deplorable conditions.
The members of Defensoras began sharing their stories with each other, and in many cases supporting each other through the asylum process. From there, they began organizing to change asylum policy. The outgrowth of this was a partnership with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) and together, CGRS and MUA worked to lobby the Biden administration to reverse Trump-era policies that denied survivors of gender-based and gang violence the right to seek asylum.
MUA members from the Defensoras group bravely testified to the Department of Justice about their harrowing experiences, and made the argument for the need for asylum for survivors of violence. In June 2021, after many months of lobbying, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the reversal of the Trump era policy. This victory could save the lives of tens of thousands of asylum seekers, including many MUA members, who now have the chance to avoid deportation to the violent threats awaiting them at home.
Not long after this victory, MUA members voted to join Welcome With Dignity, which continues and broadens this campaign. Welcome with Dignity seeks to reimagine our asylum system and defend the rights of those seeking protection to welcome families, children, and adults languishing on our doorstep, advocate for the restoration of asylum rights in the United States, and create a more just, humane, and dignified approach to protecting migrants fleeing danger.