Female Genital Cutting

Female genital cutting is a traditional practice in which women and girls are forcibly subjected to the cutting and/or removal of some of all of their genitalia. There are many variations on the practice, and it causes lifelong medical, psychological, and sexual complications. Female genital cutting is common in parts of the western, eastern, and northeastern regions of Africa and in some countries in Asia and the Middle East. From its founding, CGRS has worked to have female genital cutting recognized as a form of persecution and a basis for asylum.

  • Matter of Kasinga (1996): This first precedent decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals established that women fleeing female genital cutting, and by extension gender-based persecution more generally, may be eligible for asylum in the United States. CGRS Director Karen Musalo was the lead attorney in Matter of Kasinga, and the case was the catalyst for her founding of CGRS.
  • Abebe v. Gonzales (2005): The en banc Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an Ethiopian couple who had been denied asylum should have their case reconsidered based on their fear of female genital cutting for their daughter. The case was remanded to the IJ who granted asylum. CGRS was co-counsel for the Abebes.
  • Bah v. Mukasey (2008): Three Guinean women who had suffered past female genital cutting were denied asylum by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which –based on the same reasoning used to deny protection in Matter of A-T- - held that past female genital cutting does not preclude future attempts to subject a woman to additional cutting or other types of persecution. In an unusual move and in recognition of our expertise, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit requested that CGRS file an amicus brief. After hearing from CGRS and other parties, the Second Circuit rejected the BIA’s reasoning in Matter of A-T- and granted asylum to the women. The court’s decision adopted most of the arguments raised in CGRS’s brief. 
  • Matter of A-T- (2009): Ms. A-T-, a woman from Mali who had suffered past female genital cutting, was denied protection by the Board of Immigration Appeals. CGRS became involved in the case – playing a key role in coordinating a campaign to reverse the Board’s decision and filing an amicus brief in the case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  The campaign was successful and, in 2008, the U.S. Attorney General vacated the Board’s denial. In 2009, the BIA issued a ruling outlining a legal framework specifying that women who have suffered past female genital cutting may qualify for refugee protection. Ms. A-T- was granted withholding of removal in 2011. CGRS played a key role.
  • Matter of I-J- (pending): The Board of immigration Appeals is considering the case of a young woman from Sierra Leone who underwent female genital cutting, and was forced, under threat of death, to perform female genital cutting on another girl. She fears further cutting and other harm if she returns to Sierra Leone. This case raises the question of whether the “persecutor of others” bar to asylum applies to a refugee who was compelled against her will, by threats of death and psychological coercion, to perform female genital cutting. Ms. I-J- repeatedly refused to perform female genital cutting and made many attempts to escape from the individuals forcing her to participate. CGRS submitted an amicus brief to the BIA on her behalf.

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