Genital Mutilation Grounds for Asylum Bid

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 2009

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The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco criticized immigration officials who, in ordering the family deported, decided that the girl had suffered no serious harm when her genitals were mutilated as a newborn.

Any form of female genital mutilation is “horrifically brutal” and amounts to persecution under established precedents in federal courts and the Justice Department’s immigration courts, the court said.

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Federal courts have granted asylum to women who fled their countries after being genitally mutilated or threatened with mutilation. In this case, the parents argued that one of their younger daughters would face ritual mutilation if deported to Indonesia, and that sparing her from deportation would be meaningless if the rest of her family was deported.

In denying asylum, immigration judges cited a State Department report that said female genital mutilation as practiced in Indonesia “involves minimal short-term pain, suffering and complications.”

Contrasting the procedure to a court’s description of mutilation in Ethiopia, where the genitals are cut with knives and recovery takes 40 days, immigration courts said the Indonesian girl had not been persecuted and that neither she nor her family was entitled to asylum.

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An immigration review board’s “attempt to parse the distinction between differing forms of female genital mutilation is . . . a threat to the rights of women in a civilized society,” Judge Margaret McKeown said in the court ruling.

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