Andy Rottman


Political asylum in the United States is intended to protect those who fear persecution if they are returned to their country of origin. Arguably, the United States asylum system works reasonably well when the asylum seeker fits neatly within the statutory asylum scheme. If, however, asylum seekers' claims fall outside the statute, the asylum system can work inhumane results. In these situations, Congress can use issue-specific legislation to protect a group facing a discrete humanitarian crisis. This was done in section 601 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 ("IIRIRA"), which explicitly provided asylum protection to individuals who resisted China's coercive population control measures. Issue-specific asylum legislation has not been attempted since section 601, which begs the question-why? This Comment argues that two factors contribute to congressional avoidance of similar issue-specific legislation. First, section 601 was poorly drafted, which resulted in legislative and judicial confusion about its intended scope and left future Congresses hesitant to provide issue-specific protection. Second, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, made Congress and the general public wary about increased asylum protection, despite the attenuated link between terrorism and asylum. Issue-specific legislation is needed to correct an inhumane result of current United States asylum law: girls who fear facing female genital mutilation ("FGM") if returned to their country of origin are afforded asylum protection, but their parents are not. This forces an impossible choice on the parents- either leave their daughter in the United States when deported, or keep the family together and return to their country of origin, thereby subjecting their daughter to a risk of female genital mutilation. This choice is contrary to the humanitarian aims of asylum law, yet Congress has done nothing. Issue-specific protection for the parents is necessary and can be achieved by avoiding the drafting problems of section 601 and by publicly emphasizing the lack of connection between asylum and terrorism. This Comment concludes with a model statute that provides issue-specific protection for the parents, addressing and avoiding the problems of section 601.