Adelaide Abankwah fled to the United States in 1997 seeking asylum from female genital mutilation (FGM). Upon entering the country, police confiscated her fake passport. She has since been staying in an immigration detention facility in Queens, New York.
Her asylum petitions were continually denied and Abankwah was scheduled to return to Ghana. Recently, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned this ruling, stating that the circumstances surrounding FGM in Ghana were reason to not deport her. The Ghanaian government declared FGM illegal in 1994, but has made only seven arrests since then. Robert W. Sweet, U.S. District Judge, commented that “Abankwah’s position is particularly compelling in light of general conditions in Ghana. In 1997, the United States Department of State estimated that between 15 and 30 percent of all women and girls in Ghana had been subjected to female genital mutilation.”
According to Jonathan Rauchway, Abankwah’s lawyer, this is the first time FGM has been considered as a legitimate reason for asylum.
In her two in a half years in the United States, Abankwah was confined to the dim walls of her cell block. A week after the district judge overturned the original ruling, she was released on temporary parole while her case is being processed. Although her asylum case could be denied for other reasons, Abankwah and her lawyer say this is a cause for celebration. She stated her strong belief that she will be given asylum, “I know the U.S. is good…They help you if you have a problem…I have to believe.”
As a result of her case, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, is lobbying for legislation that would alter guidelines concerning gender-based persecution – like FGM – by developing regulations that immigration judges must obey.