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Victims of Genital Cutting Get New Chance at Asylum

Jul 2, 2008

Three women from Guinea got another chance at asylum in the United States when a federal appeals court ruled that immigration judges had committed “obvious errors” by denying them asylum, and ordered that their cases be re-heard.

Salimatou Bah, Mariama Diallo and Haby Diallo were victims of genital cutting in their home country in Africa. They told the immigration board that they feared for their safety, and for the safety of their daughters if they were returned to Guinea. But the immigration courts ruled that, since their genitals had already been cut, they had nothing further to fear.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously overturned the immigration board’s ruling. Judge Chester J. Straub wrote that he was “deeply disturbed” that the cases “did not receive the careful analysis they were due.” He called genital cutting “a horrendous act of persecution.”

In other cases, immigration courts have granted asylum to women who had been subjected to forced sterilization even though that procedure, like genital cutting, cannot be repeated.

A New York Times editorial about the ruling said, in part, “One of the judges wrote separately to underscore what the board failed to recognize: the ritual mutilation of girls to promote chastity and thwart sexual desire is a perpetual injury. It is performed without anesthesia, often with dirty instruments, and leads to disfigurement, severe complications and lifelong trauma… The United States has seldom been shy in lecturing others in the world about human-rights abuses. But it has zigzagged between compassion and confusion in its handling of women seeking refuge from genital cutting. Swift action by [Attorney General] Mukasey and the Board of Immigration Appeals to affirm the rights of these women would do much to replace gauzy words with exemplary action.”

Bah, Diallo and Diallo will remain in the U.S. until their cases are resolved.

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