Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reps. Lofgren and Conyers Call on Attorney General to Review Female Genital Mutilation Ruling

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) joined with Representative John Conyers (D-MI) in co-signing a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, expressing their concern over a recent decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that appears to reverse U.S. policy regarding the protection of women subjected to severe human rights abuses such as female genital mutilation (“FGM”) and forced marriage. The BIA denied the asylum claim of a woman who had suffered FGM as a child and who feared that she would be subjected to a forced marriage if returned to her native Mali. "This recent action taken by the Board of Immigration Appeals is a step backward for the rights of women worldwide," said Conyers. "America's standing as a global leader for human rights and democratic principles is undermined by this decision. Attorney General Mukasey should review this case and give thoughtful consideration to why asylum is properly granted to victims of this horrible abuse.” “I’m deeply distressed that the Board of Immigration Appeals would deny this woman’s claim for asylum,” noted Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “Female Genital Mutilation is a gross violation of a woman’s human rights and has traditionally been grounds for the granting of an asylum claim. I hope that Attorney General Mukasey will see the troubling implications of this terrible ruling and certify the case for further review.”

For the letter, see Download conyer_lofgren_letter.wpd

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Congressman John Conyers is Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary.



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It's an interesting case. I wish that those working on it (including the members of congress) would focus more on the forced marriage, in particular forced marriage in a society where FGM takes place, aspect rather than on the claim that FGM itself is on-going persecution. There are, to my mind, very interesting and strong claims to be made here but I worry that we'll be left with muddled arguments and positions that cause more trouble than good. (To my mind the forced sterilization as on-going persecution claim, without significantly more apperatus, is itself a pretty muddled claim, one that's caused more confusion than good.)

Posted by: Matt Lister | Feb 12, 2008 2:10:20 PM

We'll continue to get decisions like this one and a slew of affirmations without opinions as long as Ashcroft's "reforms"--cutting the Board in half even as its workload increased and purging the liberal members--remain in place. Hopefully President Obama will take action to rectify the situation.

Posted by: yave begnet | Feb 12, 2008 6:44:53 PM

Maybe it's because I don't know what "apperatus" means, or what apparatus could possibly mean in this context, but I don't see what is muddled about it. Congress passed a law that says forced sterilization is persecution. Period.

The muddled part is where the government claims that because no asylum seeker could be forced to undergo more than one forced sterilization or clitoridectomy, that no asylum can be granted to somebody based on that past persecution alone.

Posted by: ANONimmUS | Feb 14, 2008 2:06:05 PM

Anon- "apparatus" here simply means a framework in which a rule is explained and made clear. Note that normally past persecution without a fear of future persecution won't get you asylum, so why should it in these cases? In some cases where something similar has been done there is a story, more or less compelling, told about it- that your entire family was killed by people who still live in a country, though they are not likely to kill you now, might be too hard to subject someone to, say. This sort of normative account has often not been present, or has been put forward in a muddled way, in the case of forced sterilization. It seems to me that in the case of past FGM we should avoid this muddle and think explicitly about _why_ past persecution might be enough on it's own when the harm feared can't be done again or else why there might be real on-going harm (to my mind there's quite a good case for that here so no need to go for the muddled view.)

Finally, of course congress can make whatever it wants a statutory ground for asylum but doing so often makes things worse, not better. Forced sterilization should have been a clear ground anyway, without being specially noted. It was so specially noted because a number of conservative christians wanted to make a point. But now we get arguments like, "well, if congress had wanted this to be a ground they would have said so, like in forced sterilization." That's sometimes a good argument for interpretation, though it's a bad one here, and one that could have been avoided if not for the bad idea of making it a statutory ground.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 16, 2008 12:07:55 PM

While they're at it, they may as well address the issue of male circumcision. How many millions of Americans, without their consent, are subjected to such procedures every year and suffer a lifetime of less than maximum reward for their efforts? Stop the mutilations now!

Posted by: Horace | Feb 18, 2008 4:51:56 PM

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