Abankwah v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv.

Ms. Abankwah, a native of Ghana, was a member of a tribe that punishes women who engage in premarital sex with female genital mutilation (“FGM”). While Ms. Abankwah was away from her tribe, she had a sexual relationship. Subsequently, she learned that she would be the next Queen Mother of her tribe, a position that requires a woman to remain a virgin until marriage. She knew this meant the tribe would discover she had engaged in premarital sex and she would be punished with FGM. Ms. Abankwah fled but her tribe came after her. She decided it was unsafe for her to remain in Ghana and purchased a falsified Ghanaian passport and U.S. visa and fled to the United States. Immigration authorities arrested Ms. Abankwah when she arrived in the United States and commenced deportation proceedings against her. Ms. Abankwah sought to remain in the United States by seeking asylum. To obtain asylum, she needed to establish, among other requirements, that she was unable or unwilling to return to her native country because of a “well-founded” fear of persecution, pursuant to section 208(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. section 1158(a). Ms. Abankwah explained that she feared returning to Ghana because, if she did, her tribe would perform FGM on her. The immigration court denied her petition for asylum because it concluded that her fear of FGM was not objectively reasonable. On appeal, however, the court found that Ms. Abankwah was a credible witness and her fear was objectively reasonable because it was “based on her knowledge of and experience with customs of her tribe.” As such, Ms. Abankwah was granted asylum and allowed to stay in the United States.



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