Matter of Kasinga (1996)


The 1996 Board of Immigration Appeals decision in the Matter of Kasinga was the first precedent decision establishing that women fleeing gender-based persecution, in this case specifically female genital cutting, could be eligible for asylum in the United States. See Matter of Kasinga, 21 I. & N. 357 (BIA 1996).

CGRS Involvement

CGRS Director Karen Musalo was the lead attorney representing Fauziya Kasindja, and Fauziya’s case inspired her to found the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. 

Basic Facts

Fauziya Kassindja fled her home in Togo when she was 17 to escape female genital cutting and life in a forced polygamous marriage. Her father had been protecting her from female genital cutting, a widespread practice among their tribe in Togo, but after his death, Fauziya’s paternal aunt took over their household. Her aunt forced Fauziya into marriage with a much older man who already had several wives, and told her she would soon be forced to undergo female genital cutting. Fauziya fled first to Ghana, then to Germany. She arrived in the United States in 1994, immediately requested asylum, and was placed in detention, where she remained for over a year. 

Procedural History

Ms. Kassindja was denied asylum by an Immigration Judge, who found that she was not credible and that female genital cutting did not present a basis for asylum. Karen Musalo took the case while at the Human Rights Law Clinic at American University and successfully garnered significant media attention for Ms. Kassindja’s story. Within days of her story appearing on the front page of The New York Times, the government agreed to release Ms. Kassindja, and she walked out of the York County Prison in Pennsylvania to find hordes of reporters and photographers.

A little less than two months later, on June 13, 1996, a nearly unanimous Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that Fauziya was indeed a credible witness and granted her request for political asylum. The BIA ruled that female genital cutting constituted persecution in this case, and that Ms. Kassindja had a well-founded fear of this persecution. The BIA also found that her persecution was based on her membership in the particular social group of “young women of the Tchamba-Kunsuntu Tribe who have not had FGM [female genital mutilation], as practiced by that tribe, and who oppose the practice.”

Significance of the Kasinga Victory

Despite the Kasinga victory, adjudicators have continued to resist gender-based asylum claims, including those based on fear of female genital cutting. CGRS continues to work for recognition of these claims  through impact litigationpolicy campaigns, and expert consultation.

Legal Documents

BIA Decision (1996)

CGRS Articles

L. Frydman and K. Seelinger, Kasinga’s Protection Undermined? Recent Developments in Female Genital Cutting Jurisprudence, 18 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 1073 (2008)

Karen Musalo, A Short History of Gender Asylum in the United States: Resistance and Ambivalence May Very Slowly Be Inching Towards Recognition of Women’s Claims, Refugee Survey Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2010)t

Karen Musalo, Protecting Victims of Gendered Persecution: Fear of Floodgates or Call to (Principled) Action?, 14 Va. J. Soc. Pol’y & L. 119 (2007)

In Re Kasinga: A Big Step Forward for Gender-Based Asylum Claims, 73 Interpreter Releases, 853 (July 1, 1996)

Ruminations on In re Kasinga:The Decision’s Legacy, 7 U.S.C. Review of Law and Women’s Studies 357 (1998)

News Coverage

The Kasinga victory came not simply because of effective legal advocacy, but also through the coordinated effort of women's rights and human rights organizations nationally. This grassroots effort mobilized such widespread public support for Ms. Kassindja's claim for asylum that the government simply could not return her to Togo. Ms. Kassindja’s quest for refugee protection became one of the most highly publicized political asylum cases since the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act. The story ended up on the front pages of national newspapers, and Ms Kassindja was interviewed on Nightline, National Public Radio, and CNN International.

  • Celia W. Dugger, “June 9-15;Asylum From Mutilation,” New York Times, June 16, 1996

  • Celia W. Dugger, “U.S. Grants Asylum to Woman Fleeing Genital Mutilation Rite,” New York Times, June 14, 1996

  • A. M. Rosenthal, “On My Mind; To the Clintons and the Doles,” New York Times, May 28, 1996

  • Katha Pollitt, “Women’s Rights, Human Rights” The Nation, May 13, 1996

  • Pamela Constable, “Full Immigration Board Hears Female Genital Mutilation Case,” Washington Post, May 3, 1996 

  • Maria Puente, “Togo Teen-ager Seeks Asylum from Mutilation,” USA Today, May 3, 1996 

  • “Immigration Panel Hears Togo Woman's Asylum Case,” Star Tribune, May 3, 1996 

  • Robert L. Jackson, “Policy May Be Set Over Woman's Plight,” Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1996 

  • Refugees from Mutilation,” New York Times, May 2, 1996

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