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This article was originally published on September 05, 2007.

The highest immigration appellate court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), issued two precedent-setting decisions that advocates fear will limit the ability of a woman to receive refugee status because of female genital mutilation.

In Matter of A-K-, the BIA denied protection to a Senegalese father who feared returning to Senegal because he believed that his U.S. citizen daughters would be subject to genital cutting there.

A few weeks later, in Matter of A-T-, the BIA refused protection to a woman from Mali who had already been mutilated, asserting that “because female genital mutilation (FGM) is a type of harm that generally is inflicted only once, the procedure itself will normally constitute a ‘fundamental change in circumstances’ such that an asylum applicant no longer has a well-founded fear of persecution based on the fear that she will again be subjected to FGM.”

These cases are nationally-binding.

Tahirih is concerned about these cases because the rulings could result in many women and girls being denied protection, forced to return to their home countries to be subjected or re-subjected to this life-threatening ritual (globally recognized as a human rights abuse), or to suffer ongoing trauma and persecution from its life-long harmful effects.

These BIA decisions reveal a poor understanding of female genital cutting and its consequences, as well as a flawed interpretation of refugee law. We are working with advocates around the country to support efforts to reverse these decisions.

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