DETROIT – A federal judge on Tuesday rejected some charges against eight people –– when crippling the genitals of nine girls in a clinic in Detroit suburb, finding that the practice is governed by states, not Congress.
US District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed charges of mutilation and plot against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who performed the operation, and Dr. Fakhruddin Atar, who allowed his clinic in Livonia, Michigan, to be used for the proceedings.
The same charges were dropped from the wife of Atar, Farida and Tahera Shafik, who helped in the procedure, as well as four women who took their daughters to the clinic.
Four of the girls are from Michigan; others are residents of Illinois and Minnesota.
"Congress has crossed its borders by passing prohibition laws () ", Writes Friedman in a 28-page opinion.
Michigan was the 26th US state that officially banned practice, also known as female circumcision or cutting. State law was passed a few months after the capture of Nagralva in April 2017. Female genital mutilation is condemned by the United Nations, but is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Nagarvala said she was performing a religious custom of girls from her Muslim sect, the Indonesian Daoudi Bohra.
She still faces a plot to travel with the intention of engaging in illegal sexual behavior and accusations of obstruction. Others in the case face charges of obstruction.
"I think he will rule for our benefit," counsel Shannon Smith told Friedman.
Smith filed a proposal on behalf of Nagalva to dismiss the charges.
"When I started exploring for the first time, I was not sure how strong it would be (the movement), but I became more certain that this would be the right result," she said.
A spokeswoman said Tuesday that the US lawyer's office is considering Friedman's opinion.
Smith said that if the decision was filed, "we hope that the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court will agree that the 1996 law has been unconstitutional."
Maria Taher, a social activist and survivor of FGM, told Detroit Freedom Press that "this is crazy" and is afraid that the verdict will put more women at risk.
"Unfortunately, this will encourage those who believe that this must continue … they will feel that this is a permit, that it is ok to do this," she said.
FGM in the United States
At the beginning of 2017, the UK invited the US authorities to follow its border protection program, Operation Limleight, which deploys port officers such as Heathrow on certain dates, usually around school breaks, when families can transfer their children to or from the country to undergo FGM. After observing the British program, the United States created its own, calling Operation Limleight United States, which turned into airports across the country. The two countries are now working to work even closer together to cope with this issue.
"This is about protecting American girls," CBS News, Mark Schaefer, head of the ICE for Human Rights and War Crimes Centers, told. "It happens in communities where there is a very carefully guarded secret. It happens to girls just under our noses."
Part of the issue for the two countries is the lack of intelligence: it is very difficult for the authorities to gather information on where, when and with whom FGM is practiced. When FGM happens – for example, when families organize their daughters to practice – people often travel outside the country, making secure collection and intervention of confidential information, which is much more difficult.
Haley Joel Ot contributed to this report.
© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. This material can not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.