US appeals court rules for women fleeing genital mutilation

The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City June 11 ruled that three Guinean women claiming to be victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) should not be deported. The court found that immigration judges and the appellate system committed “obvious errors” by denying asylum to the three.

The three had argued earlier that being sent back to Guinea would place them in danger of further abuse. However a lower court ruled that since they had already been mutilated, they had nothing else to loose. The three women—Salimatou Bah, Mariama Diallo and Haby Diallo—are to remain in the US pending a review of their court hearings.

Justice Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, which oversees the Board of Immigration Appeals, said that the government is reviewing the court’s decision and its own options. The three women remain in the United States pending resolution of their cases.

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for women who seek our nation’s protection to escape brutal practice of female genital mutilation and other forms of gender persecution that are associated with it,” said Ana Reyes, a lawyer for the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, who had filed a brief in support of the women.

FGM is not explicitly covered under the US immigration laws. Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote she was “deeply disturbed” that the women’s cases “did not receive type of careful analysis they were due.” In a concurring opinion, Judge, Chester Straub called FGM “a horrendous act of persecution” that had “serious life consequences,” adding that the Board of Immigration Appeals had “simply failed.”

FGM is a traditional practice whereby women and girls are forcibly subjected to the cutting or removal of their genitalia, causing lifelong medical, psychological, and sexual complications. The practice, mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa, has long been scorned at by international community as inhumane to women who experience long term complications. (Afrol News, June 12; NYT, June 11)

See our last posts on female genital mutilation, struggle within Islam and the politics of immigration.