Tahirih Justice Center

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national non-profit organization that supports the courage of immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence by providing holistic legal services and advocacy in courts, communities, and Congress. Working to create a world where women and girls can live in safety and with dignity, Tahirih protects women and girls seeking protection from gender-based human rights abuses such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor crimes, and forced marriage.
Feb 26, 2013

Tahirih's Work on VAWA

When Fighting to End Violence Against Women, Non-Partisanship is Key

by Jeanne Smoot, Tahirih Director of Public Policy

 

As a new session of Congress gears up but many of the old problems still loom large, we wanted to reflect on one of the Tahirih Justice Center’s core values – non-partisanship – and share why we have found that holding tight to that principle in the policy world is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

 

Political parties and beliefs have their place, and we respect that. But our institutional belief is that the vital human rights issues we advocate for on behalf of our clients, incredible women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence, are universal and defending them occupies a bipartisan space where both have always found a way to come together.

 

The original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 had lead authors and co-sponsors from both parties. Subsequent VAWA reauthorizations passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, and by stunning margins in the House (VAWA 2005 passed the House by 415 to 4!).  And, despite the political battle that has been waged over the last year on VAWA’s reauthorization, recent signs indicate that we can reclaim that bi-partisan space again.

 

On February 12, 2013 the Senate passed a VAWA reauthorization bill (S.47) by a resounding 78-22 bi-partisan vote.  At the same time, the Senate passed an amendment to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act by a decisive 93-5 bipartisan vote.

 

The House also seems to be following in the same spirit. On February 6, 2013 the Majority and Minority Leader on the House floor declared that early reauthorization of VAWA is their shared priority, and on February 14th, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues issued a joint press statement calling for VAWA’s bi-partisan reauthorization.

 

So how has Tahirih been helping turn this tide in Congress? We have been at the forefront of efforts over the last year to preserve and advance protections under VAWA for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and human trafficking. We have also been fighting to keep the VAWA discourse passionate and principled, but not political.

 

Over the last year, Tahirih repeatedly met with staff and Members from both parties and within leadership of both House and Senate, reaching out to over 30 Congressional offices. Our even-handed approach has opened doors for us and earned us willing allies. Provisions that Tahirih drafted to strengthen the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (a law enacted as part of VAWA 2005 to protect “mail-order brides” from abuse) were offered by a Republican leader on the Senate Judiciary Committee, accepted by the Democratic Chair, and then passed by a nearly unanimous vote by the full committee last February.

 

As in all our advocacy initiatives, we have worked hard to build bridges, foster communication, encourage cooperation and most of all, promote respectful relationships. We have built a strong track record of working with a broad base of allies and securing bi-partisan co-sponsorships for our efforts although this can be a constant challenge in a partisan Washington.

 

But, no matter how complicated to achieve, non-partisanship is a core value that we strive toward in countless ways, every day. Tahirih does not support any political party, or participate in campaign activity (though we respect the right of employees and Board members to take part in party politics in their personal capacity and on their own time). That means we do not allow party-bashing at staff meetings, in lunchroom conversations or in our communications.  Tahirih representatives also do not attend candidate fundraisers and are reminded to uphold our non-partisanship value at coalition meetings, at briefings and receptions, and especially in speeches and media interviews. We are always honored to be invited by a wide range of conservative and liberal groups to speak at their events, and we accept most such opportunities for public education – so long as we are not expected to be a mouthpiece for others’ platforms rather than our clients’ plights.

 

Tahirih has been fortunate to attract an incredibly diverse group of supporters to rally around our mission to protect women and girls from violence. Every year Tahirih invites all members of Congress to show their support by joining an Honorary Congressional Co-Chair Committee for our annual national fundraising gala. And, every year we are grateful that dozens of Democratic and Republican committed legislators from across the political spectrum agree to serve.

 

Tahirih’s inspiring clients deserve every last one of the allies that we can muster and marshal for their protection.  Being genuinely non-partisan helps ensure that Tahirih can weather all the storms that pass through Washington and keep us effective no matter where the balance of power shifts.

 

The moment we presume who our best friend or worst enemy is, is the moment we will fail to be the fiercest advocates we can be for the courageous women and girls we represent.

Nov 27, 2012

Muna's Story

*Name changed for privacy. Photo is not of Muna.
*Name changed for privacy. Photo is not of Muna.

Every day, approximately 25,000 girls become child brides, leaving many without basic freedoms and subject to severe and sustained harm, including domestic abuse, marital rape, and other forms of violence.

Through our Forced Marriage Initiative and as a member of the Girls Not Brides Global Partnership to end child marriage, the Tahirih Justice Center is helping to lead efforts to address the urgent and emerging problem of forced marriage in the United States, including directly representing teenage girls facing or fleeing forced marriages.

Muna,* one of our clients, shares her story in her own words.

“As a young girl growing up in Yemen, I was lucky that I was able to go to school. My father often supported my mother’s views and she desperately wanted her only daughter to have an education. That all changed when I turned 13.

My uncles arranged for me to marry their friend who was 50 years old and already had one wife. My father’s brothers were rough men who were very rich and did not take “no” for an answer. Their pressure became too much for my father to bear and he agreed to the marriage, despite my mother’s protests. During this time my mother became ill with breast cancer and the stress of these arguments took its toll on her health.

Each time I saw my uncles they said things like, “you will be married soon.” They referred to their friend as my “fiancé” and sometimes “husband.” I then realized that the marriage was soon approaching and I was stuck. If I ever spoke back to my uncles, they would surely have beaten me. I was destined to be a housewife at age 13.

Meanwhile, my mother arranged with my father to get treatment for her breast cancer in the United States. In the middle of the night before she was to leave, my mother snuck me out of the house with her and we managed to flee Yemen.

Once in the U.S. my mother’s treatment did not work. She passed away when I was 14. Although I was already in school and living with my mother’s sister, I was at risk of deportation. My father and uncles called me repeatedly, demanding that I return to Yemen to fulfill their marriage promise and uphold the honor of the family. When I said I wanted to graduate high school and go to college, my father became very angry and said “you will come back, I will make sure you come back!” Then he hung up the phone. I was terrified that I would be forced to return to Yemen and never have my own life. My dreams of continuing my education and becoming a doctor were over. I grew so depressed that I tried to kill myself.

When I came to the Tahirih Justice Center, I only had days before a hearing at an Immigration Court that was seeking to deport me. In partnership with my Tahirih lawyers, my aunt and I decided to pursue an application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a form of immigration relief available to unaccompanied minors who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents. SIJS required us first get an order from a family court finding me to be abused, neglected or abandoned my by father. As I was turning 18 in less than a month, it was important I got this order before my birthday. My aunt and I worked with the Family Law Attorney at Tahirih to get this order on an emergency basis. Once we got the state order, I worked with a staff immigration attorney to complete my application for SIJS, which was later granted. I now have a Green Card, giving me permanent safety from my abusive father and the threat of my future husband’s violence in Yemen. I am so thankful to the Tahirih Justice Center for helping me escape a terrible fate. I now look forward to continuing with college and pursuing a career as a doctor.”

 

Our work helping courageous women and girls is only possible with support from individuals like you. As we celebrate this holiday season, we are grateful for your support and hope that you will consider helping to make more victories, like Muna’s, possible in the year to come.

Links:

Sep 25, 2012

Layli Named 1 of 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs

We are so excited to share the news that Goldman Sachs has named Layli Miller-Muro, founder and executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center (Tahirih), as one of the "100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs" of 2012! Layli will be honored this October at Goldman Sachs' Builders and Innovators Conference in Newport Beach, California featuring attendees including Bill Clinton and Malcolm Gladwell.

The Goldman Sachs award goes to leaders in organizations across a wide spectrum of fields, from finance to philanthropy, and aims not only to recognize achievement, but also to help recipients grow stronger by fostering discussions between established leaders in the fields and newer innovators at the Builders and Innovators conference in October. David Solomon, co-head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs, said that "This gathering is the first of its kind, bringing together emerging entrepreneurs from a diverse set of industries with more seasoned entrepreneurs to discuss how to build great and enduring companies that reshape their industries and make the world better through innovation."

The Tahirih Justice Center is a recognized leader in international women's rights and works to protect courageous immigrant women and girls fleeing violent abuses including rape, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and domestic violence. In Houston, Baltimore, and Greater Washington, DC, Tahirih provides free legal and social services and, at a federal level, engages in public policy advocacy to ensure that laws provide women and girls with long-term protection from violence. It has long been recognized as a leader and innovator in its field, receiving under Layli's leadership the 2007 Washington Post Award for Management Excellence and many other awards. Its innovative use of pro bono attorneys to quintuple its resources was featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Marshaling the resources of over 1,000 lawyers at large law firms, Tahirih has won 99% of its cases during the last 15 years and helped over 14,000 women and girls. Tahirih is in the process of replicating its model for providing services nationally. In 2012, in addition to receiving the Goldman Sachs award, Layli was named one of Newsweek/Daily Beast's 150 Most Fearless Women in the World and received the Diane Von Furstenberg People's Voice Award.

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national non-profit organization that protects courageous immigrant women and girls refusing to be victims of violence by providing holistic legal services and advocacy in courts, congress, and communities. www.tahirih.org

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