As a lawyer who regularly deals with immigrants like Diallo, I'm particularly incensed about her willingness to lie. While there's sympathy out there for women who claim to have been raped, that same courtesy isn't extended to asylum applicants.
Whenever I tell someone that I'm representing a person who claims to have been persecuted, there's always a skeptic who says, "Yeah, but how can you really believe what she says?" There's a sense that too many immigrants are trying to scam the system. But the usual buzzwords of "illegal," "close the borders" and "amnesty" don't apply here.
Asylum is serious business, and should be taken seriously by both the descendants of Emma Lazarus as well as those seeking protection. When presented with compelling cases of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion or other recognized grounds, our government usually does the right thing and grants safe harbor.
But sometimes they make a mistake. One example of a deadly error that I know of was the young Honduran who claimed he'd be murdered by gang members if he was denied asylum and sent home. Which he was - only to be murdered a week later. I had a similar case where a judge didn't believe my client and ordered him deported. Back home in Africa, he was murdered by political opponents in front of his wife and children.
That's why I'm enraged at Diallo the immigrant, not necessarily Diallo the alleged rape victim.
She might have been attacked by an admittedly slimy fellow who tends to view women like they were free samples at the supermarket.
But she was the worst possible witness on her own behalf. There's clear evidence that she lied about being gang-raped in Guinea, one of the claims in her asylum application, which was approved by the immigration service and paved the way for her to get her green card. And in making this false claim, and in also trying to present herself as a victim of political oppression, Diallo has undermined the credibility of every woman who says she's been raped, and every immigrant who says she's been tortured.
You might say that this one person crying wolf doesn't do any real harm to victims of abuse. You could try to argue that she's an aberration, and that the vast majority of women who claim to have been abused and immigrants who seek asylum are telling the truth. But when the most valuable part of a victim's case is her very own word, someone with such a high profile only gives the critics more ammunition.
A few weeks ago, commenting on the DSK case, a person who works with asylum applicants wrote an op-ed in the New York Times where he asked people to understand, and perhaps even accept, some of the fabrications people make on their requests for protection. His point was that people in fear of their lives sometimes embellish their stories to maximize the chances they'll get to stay in this country.
That's true, and immigration laws are designed to concede some forms of subterfuge. But when you lie about being gang-raped, you're not exactly the poster child for "Give me your tempest-tossed . . ."
In my experience over the last 15 years of working with them, immigrants tell the truth about the hell they suffered.
Niasfatou Diallo is one who didn't. And in doing so, she made a mockery of rape victims, other refugees and our legal system.
And she also made one of me.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.