The Senate approved an immigration bill amendment to make it a crime to perform female genital mutilation — on girls under the age of 18, carrying penalties of up to five years in prison and fines. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev) and passed by a voice vote, was added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo) designed to crackdown on illegal immigration. Sen. Reid was forced to withdraw language that would have offered political asylum to women fleeing their home countries to escape the practice.
On May 2, the Board of Immigration Appeals heard the case of Fauziya Kasinga, the 19-year-old woman from Togo seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape FGM in her native country. Performed with unsterilized knives or even broken glass, the practice entails cutting off all or part of female genitalia and can cause severe health complications and even death. Immigration service general counsel David A. Martin plans to argue that the Board should establish a precedent that only girls and women who would be forced to undergo the procedure be granted asylum. Refugee advocates say this policy would exclude women who had the procedure as children or who would be ostracized from their community if they refused, forcing them into a life of economic hardship and possibly prostitution.