Female Genital Mutilation Asylum Cases Forge New Legal Standing in U.S.
Monday, December 1, 2008 3:31 PM

Three denials of asylum applications in the United States in 2007 for women fearing return to their home countries because of the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) may hinder future asylum claims by others in similar circumstances. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denied asylum to three women from Guinea and one from Mali last year, although the Attorney General overturned the ruling on the Malian woman.

In 1996, a woman from Togo, Fauziya Kassindja (misspelled Kassinga in the case), was granted asylum based on her fear of undergoing FGM and membership in a particular social group "consisting of young women of the Tchamba-Kunsuntu Tribe who have not had FGM, as practiced by that tribe, and who oppose the practice."  See Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996).  In 2007, in The Matter of A-T, the BIA denied withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture to a Malian woman who had already undergone FGM, holding that FGM was a one-time occurrence so that the applicant had no fear or future harm.  See Matter of A-T-, 24 I&N Dec. 296(BIA 2007).  But in 2008, the Office of the Attorney General vacated the BIA's decision and ordered that her claim for withholding of removal be reconsidered.  See Matter of A-T-, 24 I&N Dec. 617 (A.G. 2008).  Some advocates, however, argue that FGM can occur more than once and that women can be abused in other ways, such as domestic abuse or rape.

After the recent decisions denying relief, it is difficult to assess how future asylum claims based on a fear of undergoing FGM will be handled. The BIA's decisions are binding on the Immigration Courts and the Department of Homeland Security.  But the BIA's seemingly contradictory decisions in the Kassindja and the A-T- cases leave advocates wondering how future cases will be treated.   

Although at least three million girls undergo FGM each year, according to the World Health Organization, the number of people applying for asylum in the U.S. based on a fear of FGM remains low, in part because young girls are unable to apply for asylum.

Compiled from: Zakari, Zainab, FGM Asylum Cases Forge New Legal Standing, Women’s eNews (25 November 2008).