Can I Apply for Asylum in the U.S. If I'm From Senegal?

Women from Senegal are the most likely applicants members of its population to have a claim for asylum in the United States.

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Compared with neighboring countries, Senegal is considered stable, and therefore not a major source of asylum claims in the United States. Freedom of assembly and the press are respected, and the government was elected in a free and fair manner.

Many Senegalese women, however, continue to have a difficult life, and potential grounds for asylum. The law against spousal rape is rarely enforced, nor is the law against domestic violence. Almost every girl in the Fouta Region is an FGM (female genital mutilation) victim. Approximately 60% to 70% of girls in the south and southeast of Senegal have been forced to undergo the procedure. (See USDOS Country Reports, Senegal, 2013.)

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Senegal?

Asylum applicants who file claims based on having undergone FGM or based on fear that their daughter will be forced to undergo FGM upon return to Senegal face a mixed bag in terms of their success in obtaining asylum. Different U.S. federal circuit courts see the issue differently, so where you reside and file your claim may change the outcome.

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Senegal?

The most typical asylum claim filed by Senegalese is based on persecution or fear of future persecution on account of membership in a particular social group. Women who were forced to undergo FGM file many such claims. Other claims are filed by women who fear that their daughters will be forced to undergo FGM if returned home to Senegal.

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims from Senegal?

Immigration Judges and Asylum officers have access to the same Internet reports and articles that asylum applicants commonly submit. The government in Senegal outlawed FGM in 1999. More importantly, Senegal actively educates its villages about the dangers of FGM and supports organizations combating the practice.

It is possible for U.S. judges and asylum officers to justify a finding that an asylum applicant who fears her daughter will be cut can safely return to Senegal. (See, for example, the U.N. Population Fund's report, “More Communities in Senegal Disavow Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting," January 31, 2012; and “Ending Female Genital Mutilation, One Household at a Time”, by Gannon Gillespie, The Guardian, August 22, 2013.)

Judges and officers in the Fourth Circuit states of Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia are bound by the decision inNiang v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 505 (4th Cir. 2007), which states that an applicant cannot be granted asylum based only on her claim that she will suffer psychological harm if the daughter is forced to undergo FGM.

Often women file claims based on their own experience with FGM. Judges and officers sometimes take the view that FGM is a one-time occurrence, so that women who have undergone the procedure have no fear of future persecution if returned home. It is important to know that certain U.S. federal courts have concluded that FGM is, indeed, an ongoing form of persecution.

Specifically, the Ninth Circuit, comprising Montana, Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Arizona, finds that FGM is a permanent and continuing act of persecution for several reasons, including permanent disfiguration, long-term health problems, and psychological trauma. (See Mohamed v. Gonzales, 400 F.3d 785 (9th Cir 2005).)

Similarly, the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont) finds that past FGM constitutes ongoing harm. (See Bah v MukaseyDiallo v. DHS, 529 F.3d. 99 (2nd Cir 2008).)

Judge and officers in states where there is no precedent decision in this area follow the rule of the Board of Immigration Appeals, which advises that FGM is not ongoing persecution. (See In re A-T, 24 I&N Dec 296 (B.I.A. 2007).)

What Can Senegalese Do to Increase Their Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

Despite the positive trend towards eradicating FGM in Senegal, statistics from the Department of Homeland Security state that around one-third of women between 35 and 39 have undergone the procedure. In some regions, according to the Population Reference Bureau, up to 93.8% of females are FGM victims. (See “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Data and Trends,” 2010 update.)

It is important that asylum applicants admit that Senegal is acting more responsibility but that there is a long way to go. You'll want to submit reports and statistics showing the actual numbers of FGM victims.

Victims of FGM filing for asylum should explain how they are still affected by the mutilation. If you can convince a judge or officer that you suffered severe past persecution, you might win a grant of asylum even if the judge or officer believes you can safely return to Senegal.

If you fear any other serious harm in your country, it is important that you explain that fear. The law allows a judge or officer to grant asylum if you have suffered past persecution and fear other serious harm upon returning to your country even if the conditions in your country have changed since you left. (See Nolo's related Q&A, "With no fear of continued persecution, can I claim asylum based on other serious harm I might face?")

If you are in the Fourth Circuit and claiming asylum based on your fear that your daughter will be forced to undergo FGM if returned to Senegal, it is important to explain all the reasons why you will suffer persecution on account of your daughter’s harm. You must explain the injury you will suffer beyond psychological harm if you daughter undergoes FGM. Additionally, if you are a victim yourself, it is a good idea to make this claim as well.

by: , J.D., LL.M.

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