ICE Steps Up to Curb Female Genital Mutilation
#EndFGMToday Applauds ICE’s Ongoing Efforts at America’s Airports to Protect 200 Million Girls and Women Worldwide Who Are Subjected to This Brutal and Heinous Practice
October 21, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C.—“Less than a month before she turned 11, F.A Cole was plucked from her childhood home in Sierra Leone and marched to the woods. Confused and afraid, she was blindfolded, stripped naked, gagged and pinned down—a cutter looming over her writhing body to perform the invasive cultural ritual of female genital mutilation, better known as FGM.”
These were the harrowing opening lines of a recent Fox News article that detailed how FGM has scarred one woman who today works as a committed advocate for others.
But unfortunately, says the national #EndFGMToday initiative, Cole is just one of hundreds of millions.
EndFGMToday leader and international child advocate and attorney Elizabeth Yore also points to Fox News’ report that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) War Crimes Unit, which has spent three decades investigating and apprehending human rights violators, is active in ongoing “Operation Limelight USA” efforts at America’s largest airports. The aim is to “inform travelers of the dangers of female genital mutilation and the consequences for those who commit this horrific abuse.”
“Even as it is vilified by some, ICE is doing its part to protect the human rights of little girls,” Yore said. “The fastest-growing import into the United States is not a product or technology, rather it is the barbaric practice of FGM, which the CDC estimates over 500,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk for. The influx of refugees from FGM-practicing countries is causing a massive uptick in this brutal procedure inflicted on girls from the ages of 3 to 12. With little fanfare, ICE and HSI are proactively addressing this terrible form of child abuse.”
Fox reported that trained HSI agents speak daily to hundreds of travelers before departure about the legal repercussions of enabling FGM and offer recourse for victims or potential victims to seek assistance. The program, fashioned after the U.K.’s Operation Limelight at London’s Heathrow Airport, piloted at New York’s JFK airport and has rolled out to 14 other major airports. Operation Limelight USA will be implemented in 19 airports by 2020.
ICE’s efforts, said Yore, are a step in the right direction to eradicate female genital mutilation in the U.S., especially as 15 states still do not outlaw this heinous practice. (See a state-by-state map detailing where FGM in the U.S. is a crime.)
“State criminalization laws are all the more crucial since a judge in Michigan ruled last year that the federal FGM law was unconstitutional,” Yore said. “A positive development is that two new federal companion bills have been introduced that would criminalize FGM nationwide again. Until then, however, it’s up to states to enact their own laws, not only to protect girls, but to give state prosecutors the resources they need to effectively carry out justice against the perpetrators.”
Yore added that FGM provides no health benefits and, in fact, can cause severe health effects—significant bleeding and acute pain, as well as life-long consequences of chronic infection, childbirth complications, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and even death.
Yore also noted that female genital mutilation is recognized by both the World Health Organization and the United Nations as a human rights violation. Additionally, over 200 million women worldwide have been subjected to this cruel practice.
FGM survivor F.A. Cole also told Fox News that one glaring cause for concern in some U.S. communities is that mothers, now armed with the knowledge that “vacation cutting” is becoming more challenging given law enforcement’s growing crackdown, are banding together to “sponsor” a cutter to perform the ritual in the cloak of secrecy at someone’s house.
“They are finding crafty ways to get around the laws, so we have to keep trying to stop it,” Cole said. “It is something you never get over. I felt so betrayed, so abandoned. FGM traumatizes. I don’t want another girl to suffer.”
Individuals who have information about victims or perpetrators of FGM are urged to submit a tip, anonymous or otherwise, to HRV.ICE@ice.dhs.gov or call the toll-free tip line at (866) 347-2423.