Karen Musalo

Professor and Chair in International Law, Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

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Karen Musalo is Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, California. She is lead co-author of Refugee Law and Policy: An International and Comparative approach (5th edition). She has written extensively on refugee law issues, and contributed to the evolving jurisprudence of asylum law not only through her scholarship, but through her litigation of landmark cases. She was lead attorney in Matter of Kasinga (fear of female genital mutilation as a basis for asylum) and amicus in Matter of A-R-C-G-, the first precedent decision affirming the viability of domestic violence asylum claims. Prof. Musalo is currently co-counsel in Matter of A-B-, in which the principle of protection in domestic violence claims is being challenged by Attorney General Sessions.

Prof. Musalo is recognized for her innovative work on refugee issues, being the first attorney to partner with psychologists in the representation of traumatized asylum seekers, and editing the earliest handbook for practitioners on cross-cultural issues and the impact of culture on credibility in the asylum context. She is a frequent media commentator, quoted in outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post, The Nation, and El Pais. She has been interviewed on Nightline, CNN International, and NPR’s All Things Considered, and was featured in the PBS documentary Breaking Free: A Woman’s Story.

Prof. Musalo’s current work examines the linkage between human rights violations and migration, focusing on violence against women and children in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. She is the founding director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which is internationally known for its research and legal advocacy and for its program of expert consultation to attorneys around the world.

Professor Musalo has received numerous national awards in recognition of her work on behalf of refugees, including the 2010 California Lawyer of the Year Award, the 2009 Daily Journal’s recognition as one of the “Top 100” lawyers in California, and the 2015 Federal Bar Association Immigration Section’s Lawyer of the Year Award. In 2012 she received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lehman College, the same year she received UC Law SF’ Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is a frequent speaker at conferences throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America.


  • Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley
    J.D., Law

  • Brooklyn College. City University of New York
    B.A., Comparative Literature


  • Lawyer of the Year Award
    Awarded by the Immigration Law Section of the Federal Bar Association.

  • Chair in International Law
    Conferred by the Bank of America Foundation.

  • Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters
    Awarded by Lehman College at the City University of New York.

  • Rutter Award
    Awarded by for excellence in teaching.

  • California Lawyer of the Year (CLAY) Award
    Awarded by the monthly legal magazine, California Lawyer.

  • Top 100 Attorneys in California Award
    Awarded by Daily Journal.

  • Human Rights Award
    Awarded by the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant.

  • Carol King Award
    Awarded by the National Immigration Project.

  • Human Rights Award
    Awarded by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

  • Annual Award
    Awarded by the New York Central American Refugee Center.

  • Outstanding Achievement Award
    Awarded by the Political Asylum Immigration Representation Project.

  • Eighth Annual Phillip Burton Immigration and Civil Rights Award
    Awarded by The Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

  • Recognition: The American Lawyer
    Conferred in recognition of the publication " The Public Sector: forty-five young lawyers outside the private sector whose vision andcommitment are changing lives."

Selected Scholarship

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