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Why Female Genital Mutilation Won’t Get You Asylum

A recent decision  by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals  to deport a 28-year-old Maryland woman, originally from Mali, seems a bit cold. (Excerpts are below and on the following five pages.) As a child in Mali,  Alima Traore  (referred to in the documents as “A.T.”) was subjected to  female genital mutilation. Ordinarily, U.S. immigration law recognizes similarly awful experiences as evidence that an immigrant will face further persecution if returned to his or her country of origin (Page 3). The panel further recognized that female genital mutilation remains a widespread practice in Mali. Nonetheless, the board noted, “FGM is generally performed only once, thereby eliminating risk of identical future persecution” (Page 4). Consequently, “despite the severity of harm she endured as a victim of FGM,” the board dismissed Ms. Traore’s appeal.

This decision would appear to go against legal precedent. Two years ago, the same board dismissed the case of a 17-year-old Somalian woman with a similar mutilation history. In that case, a U.S. appeals  court in San Francisco overturned the board by comparing the young woman to immigrants from China who have been punished by sterilization for exceeding limits on family size. (The United States allows refugee status in these cases.) Like female genital mutilation, sterilization is not a punishment likely to be imposed more than once on the same person.

In this latest case, however, the board stubbornly reasserted its earlier interpretation and rejected the higher court’s reasoning. It also took a hard line against Ms. Traore’s secondary plea that if returned to her village, she will be forced into marriage with her first cousin. “It is understandable that … an educated young woman would prefer to choose her own spouse rather than acquiesce to pressure from her family to marry someone she does not love and with whom she expects to be unhappy” (Page 5), the board concluded. But “we do not see how the reluctant acceptance of family tradition over personal preference can form the basis for a witholding of removal claim” (Pages 5 and 6). Nor could Ms. Traore prove, the board said, that her father, who stated in a letter that she must enter the arranged marriage “to uphold the reputation of our family” (Page 6), would take severe action if the wedding failed to occur. The board’s basis for believing this was that Ms. Traore’s father did not spell out what the anticipated punishment would be. Score another victory for traditional family values.

Thanks to Adam Liptak at the New York Times for posting the document.

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