Mukasey: Court Must Reconsider Asylum for Mali Woman Who Fears Mutilation

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has rebuked a midlevel federal court on behalf of a Mali woman who fears genital mutilation if sent home.

It's rare for the nation's top law enforcement officer to reject rulings issued by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals.

But Mukasey did just that on Monday, overruling the panel's decision to deny asylum to the unidentified woman who opposes tribal customs in Mali that force genital mutilation upon its women.

The appeals panel had spurned the Mali woman's request in April, in part because her genitals already have been mutilated.

Mukasey called the decision flawed and sent it back to the judges to reconsider.

"The board based its analysis on a false premise: that female genital mutilation is a one-time act that cannot be repeated on the same woman," Mukasey wrote in his order. "As several courts have recognized, female genital mutilation is indeed capable of repetition."

The 28-year old woman claimed she could be forced to marry a cousin if she returned to Mali, and would be powerless to prevent tribal officials from mutilating the genitals of any daughters she might have in the future. The immigration appeals panel previously has ruled that fear of female genital mutilation is solid basis for granting asylum.

Mukasey's order does not automatically grant U.S. residency to the woman. Instead, the appeals board must now reconsider its earlier ruling.

U.S. immigration courts rule on about 40,000 cases each year. In the past three years, the attorney general has weighed in on such cases only three times.

Lawmakers who asked Mukasey to intervene in the Mali case hailed his decision.

"I believe all Americans can understand why someone victimized by this practice would fear returning to a society where it was allowed to happen," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. "It is not enough to say that this practice is cruel; our policies must reflect these principles as well."

The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It estimates that 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have had the procedure performed on them, most in African countries.