The people of the United States have accepted a wide spectrum of religious practices and foreign “societal customs,” but have decried others as harmful to a decent society. One such harmful practice is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This practice involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and is performed on young girls between infancy and age 15. In many countries it is performed by family members using pieces of glass or razor blades under unsanitary conditions without anesthesia and without antibiotics.
No matter who performs the procedure, immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus, infection, urine retention, fever and septicemia. Long term consequences can include complications during child birth, anemia, formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra, painful sexual intercourse, and hypersensitivity to the genital area. The psychological effects on victims can also be horrendous. FGM may trigger behavioral disturbances caused by loss of trust and confidence in caregivers, anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction contributing to marital conflict and divorce.
According to UNICEF, an estimated 200 million girls and women today living in thirty countries are believed to have been subjected to FGM.
The U.S. Congress has evaluated the practice and declared it not societally acceptable in the United States. In fact, in 1996 Congress passed a law banning FGM. Violation of the statute is punishable by a fine, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. This statute also provides that no account shall be taken that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.
Horrifically, this ancient and barbaric practice has now been imported to the U.S. with immigrants as part of their cultural or religious heritage. FGM is a growing and serious threat to girls and women in the U.S. who are the offspring of these immigrants. Federal officials have promised to eradicate FGM, which threatens more than half a million American girls and women.
An alien who has been the victim of FGM or who has a well-founded fear of being victimized by the practice may be entitled to refugee status, asylum, or relief under the torture convention provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It is ironic that an alien’s parents, relatives, or religious or cultural leaders of the community may be responsible for requiring, condoning or facilitating this abuse on innocent girls or women, which in the eyes of immigration law constitutes persecution.
Serious immigration consequences exist for aliens, legal or illegal, who are convicted of female genital mutilation. Such a crime is classified as a crime involving moral turpitude and aggravated felony under the INA, either of which would subject the alien to possible removal or entry into the U.S., as well as bar the alien from ever obtaining citizenship.
Just this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has for the first time charged a physician with violating the 1996 law banning FGM. The DOJ has also charged Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Detroit with transportation of individuals who have not reached the age of eighteen with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity under 18 U.S.C. 2423, a felony punishable by a fine, imprisonment of not less than ten years to life, or both. Just last week, two more individuals were arrested who allegedly acted in concert with the Detroit doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, M.D., and his wife, Farida Attar, both of Livonia, Michigan.
Specifically, the criminal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Michigan, charges that Dr. Attar and his wife, conspired with Dr. Nagarwala and others to commit FGM at Burhani Medical Clinic owned by Attar in Livonia, Michigan. The criminal complaint further alleges that Dr. Nagarwala and Dr. Attar have been engaged in the conspiracy to perform FGM from 2005 to 2017. According to the DOJ press release, “the FGM procedure was performed on girls who were approximately six to eight years old.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco stated regarding the arrests and charges, “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country and will use the full power of the laws to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lemisch added, “Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls. The practice has no place in modern society.”
Dr. Nagarwala has denied performing any FGM operations, but the FBI has obtained the doctor’s telephone billing records, interviews with the child victims and their parents, and other forensic evidence. The FBI investigation has also identified other children Dr. Nagarwala may have victimized between 2005 and 2007.
Some argue that we must accept this practice in the name of cultural diversity and the free exercise of religious beliefs or cultural traditions. They are dead wrong! Allowing FGM to fester and proliferate in our nation does not promote cultural diversity. Instead it absolves an immigrant of failure to assimilate in our society and exonerates a failure to comply with our rule of law and sense of decency. Cultural arguments cannot be used to condone violence against people, period!