They were two young women living alone and in fear in Albania, where they say they were ripe targets for sex traffickers notorious for kidnapping their victims and forcing them into prostitution in other countries.
Both fled to the United States, and now appeals courts in Chicago and New York are confronting a vexing question about their fate: Should their claim that all young single women living alone in Albania face persecution qualify them for asylum?
So far their answer is no.
But a recent 2-to-1 ruling by the federal appeals panel in Chicago led the remaining judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the decision and stage a rare hearing of the full court Thursday to consider the issue.
The close scrutiny by the judges is appropriate, says Simona Agnolucci, a lawyer who submitted legal papers on behalf of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies in San Francisco.
"It's modern slavery," she said. "These characteristics — their gender, their youth, and their singlehood — are what put them at risk in Albanian society and in the world at large."
She wrote to the 7th Circuit that the issue is relevant beyond Albania's borders, since "women worldwide are subjected to trafficking and forced prostitution because of their gender."
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Simona Agnolucci specializes in complex litigation, including intellectual property matters, securities cases, and commercial disputes. She has represented major brokerage companies and investment advisors, as well as cutting-edge Internet and smartphone companies. Ms. Agnolucci has litigated cases before state and federal trial courts and has substantial experience in appellate matters across various substantive areas of the law. Ms. Agnolucci has an active pro bono practice, in which she primarily represents women fleeing gender-based persecution. Her groundbreaking pro bono work has been recognized by national media, including the New York Times.