Fauzia Kasinga, a woman who escaped from Togo in 1994 to avoid being forced into circumcision and a polygamous marriage, is currently detained in a Pennsylvania prison after being told by one U.S. immigration judge that her story is unbelievable and irrational. Kasinga had avoided the standard tribe practice of female genital mutilation because her father objected to it and was powerful enough to protect her and her older sisters. Upon his death, his sister (Kasinga’s aunt) took control of the family and ordered the circumcision and marriage for 17-year old Kasinga who fled to the United States to seek asylum and live with her cousin in Arlington, VA.
Since that time, Kasinga has been detained, shackled, and strip-searched. Although it is common practice to detain asylum seekers, the INS intervened in this case and recommended that Kasinga be released. District director Scott Blackman refused. When an immigration board rules on Kasinga’s case in April, the ruling will be binding and will be “the most significant legal decision ever made in this country about female genital mutilation as it pertains to asylum,” according to the Washington Post. If Kasinga loses the appeal, she will be forced to return to Togo.
Canada has granted two women asylum based on its three-year-old categorization that recognizes female circumcision as a legitimate claim for female asylum seekers.