Judge Harry Pregerson: 9th Circuit decision harms asylum seekers

Ninth Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson has asylum seekers backs

People seeking asylum in the United States suffered a serious blow when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently voted not to review the case of a woman who had suffered genital mutilation in her homeland.

That's according to Judge Harry Pregerson, who published a dissenting opinion Tuesday stating that Makda Teclezghi of Eritrea in north Africa deserved a new hearing based on ineffective counsel, despite the fact that her request exceeded the time limitation.

Here's what happened to her:

Teclezghi originally applied for asylum based on religious prosecution and was denied. However, she never told, and her attorneys never asked, whether she had suffered genital mutilation.

A 2005 U.S. State Department report states that 90 percent of the women in Eritrea have suffered genital mutilation, which is often considered valid grounds for asylum.

At the heart of the matter is whether it is the responsibility of the asylum seeker or their attorney to suss out all valid claims for asylum.

Pregerson, who was born in LA, blasted his fellow justices for their decision that the onus falls on the person seeking asylum, calling the conclusion erroneous and absurd.

"Contrary to the panel majority's view, immigration attorneys do have a duty to identify all forms of relief that are available to their clients, including female genital mutilation," Pregerson wrote. "Teclezghi had no reason to know that her female genital mutilation would qualify as a basis of asylum in the United States. The panel majority, however, erroneously places the burden on the asylum seeker to relay all types of personal facts to her attorney, regardless of whether the asylum seeker knows the facts are relevant to her asylum claim ... the panel majority here incorrectly shifted the burden of inquiry to the asylum seeker."

This appears to be yet another setback for asylum seekers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to win their cases.

In August, LA Weekly published a story on how Mexicans fleeing their drug war-torn country are being turned away at an unprecedented rate due to a mix of political and letter-of-the-law legal factors.

While the issue of female genital mutilation may not directly effect Mexican asylum seekers, the 9th Circuit's decision has implications that could negatively impact all those seeking refuge in the United States and their ability to appeal their case.

Or, as Pregerson put it, "I believe the panel's majority decision will have a detrimental effect on asylum seekers and is completely contrary to our precedent."

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