Victory in Gender Cutting Case

Feb 15, 2006

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California, Hastings College of Law scored an important victory in late December when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Abebe v. Gonzales that parents who seek to protect their daughters from female genital cutting may have a well-founded fear of persecution.

The Court reversed an immigration court’s 2-1 decision to deny the Abebes’ asylum.

Mr. Mengistu came from Ethiopia to the United States in 1990 on a student visa, and was joined by Ms. Abebe in 1993. They filed for asylum in 1993 and had a son and a daughter while waiting for their case to be resolved. Their daughter, Amen, was born in 1996 and is a United States citizen.

When the asylum office eventually denied their application, the Abebes’ renewed it, now arguing that if the family were forced to return to Ethiopia, Amen would be subjected to female genital cutting. An immigration judge denied their application, but they appealed. The Appeals Court concluded that the immigration court had erred, and granted their petition for asylum, remanding the case back to a lower court to resolve additional issues.

The ruling comes at a time when more and more appeals court judges are criticizing immigration judges. The New York Times reports that immigration cases, most of which involve asylum-seekers, accounted for just three percent of federal appeals court cases in 2001 but 17 percent last year. Nearly two in five appeals court cases in New York and California last year were immigration cases, because so many asylum seekers live in those states.

Some experts say that immigration judges are making more errors because of higher caseloads and a 2002 shake-up of the immigration courts by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, according to the Times.

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