In a groundbreaking decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals became the first court at the Circuit Court of Appeals level on Friday to stay the deportation of a mother whose daughters, both U.S. citizens, would be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), a form of torture, if deported to Nigeria. Human Rights USA worked creatively to ensure that Philomena Nwakolo and her daughters, Rachel and Victoria, are now safe from abuse and torture in Nigeria.
Philomena came to the United States in the 1980s on a visa that is typically granted to the spouses and children of students. Philomena took a paid job shortly after arriving, not realizing that she wasn't permitted to perform paid work, and the INS began deportation proceedings against her.
After trying several times, unsuccessfully, to obtain permission to remain in the United States, Philomena finally decided to seek protection under a federal law which implements the Convention Against Torture (CAT), an international statute obliging countries not to deport individuals to places where they face the likelihood of being tortured.
Finally, in 1999, after several years of trying to reopen her case, Philomena again sought to reopen her case based on "changed circumstances." The changed circumstances were the birth of Philomena's daughter, then 3 years old, as well as additional legal protections that had been enacted pursuant to the CAT.
Although Philomena's petition to reopen was denied, she went to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to petition for review of the lower court's refusal to reopen her case. The Seventh Circuit granted her request, and held that a stay of removal "promotes the public's compelling interest in ensuring that minor United States citizens are not forced into exile to be tortured."
The Seventh Circuit Court's decision is the first to hold that female genital mutilation constitutes torture, and is unique in that the court considered the effects of deportation on the children of an alien, as well as on the alien herself.
For additional news articles on this case, please see the following: