Two Chicago Foley partners have helped obtain asylum in the United States for a young Malian woman forced to undergo female genital mutilation as a child.
Partners Joanne Molinaro and Ellen Wheeler, working pro bono, represented the woman, who was subjected to the horrific procedure as an 8-year-old girl in Mali, one of the few places on earth where the practice is still prevalent. Not long afterward, the girl’s parents died, leaving her in the care of a traditional and controlling uncle.
As a teenager, the girl received a scholarship to attend a private boarding school in Utah, and has largely lived in the U.S. ever since. She went on to marry, obtain a master’s degree in accounting, and give birth to a beautiful baby girl. But with her education behind her, she feared being forced to return to Mali, where her family has talked about having the same procedure performed on her daughter and where women are sometimes forced to undergo the procedure a second time after giving birth. Her husband, who is also an immigrant, had no ability to obtain permanent resident status. So she applied for asylum.
The two partners put together a compelling case for asylum in a very short period of time. And, in an interview with an asylum officer in February, all of the trauma, fear and emotion the woman had been repressing over the years poured out. Molinaro and Wheeler said it was all they (and the asylum officer, they suspect) could do not to begin sobbing themselves.
In March, just before the coronavirus pandemic began, the woman’s application for asylum was granted. Now, she (and her husband) can apply for permanent residency status and eventually, citizenship.
A small ray of light in a dark time.