As the Manhattan District Attorney's Office faces criticism of its handling of the sexual assault case against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Guinean woman at the center of the case may have immigration troubles coming her way.
Some details about her background — and what happened in Strauss-Kahn's hotel suite in May — are still unknown, but immigration lawyers say her legal status in the U.S. may be in jeopardy as a result of the prosecution's latest revelations.
In a letter to the court and to defense lawyers last week, prosecutors disclosed the housekeeper had lied to the government when applying for asylum a few years ago. She told immigration officials she and her husband were beaten by police and soldiers in Guinea, that her husband was tortured in prison and that she was the victim of a gang rape in her home country.
She later said those stories were false — though she still maintains she was raped, just not in the way she described to the Department of Homeland Security.
Because the housekeeper committed fraud, immigration experts say the government could begin removal proceedings against her. But she could make the case that she is still eligible for asylum on separate, independent and truthful grounds.
"In fact, some of the people who are misguided into exaggerating or lying about what happened to them actually have genuine claims for protection based on what really happened to them," said David Isaacson, an immigration lawyer at the firm Cyrus D. Mehta & Associates, PLLC.
Isaacson said finding out someone has lied on an asylum application is not a rare occurrence, and unwitting people can often fall victim to unethical advisors. He noted, for example, people called "notarios" — notary publics who masquerade as immigration lawyers to get paid for legally unsound immigration advice — can persuade asylum applicants to be aggressive when crafting their narratives, advising them to throw everything they can into it in the hope something will stick.
"I think it is not uncommon for people, especially if influenced by these sorts of unscrupulous, non-actual lawyers to at least exaggerate what has happened," said Isaacson, who added that in his experience, most asylum seekers are truthful.
The housekeeper, according to prosecutors, was coached to come up with a more compelling story. She reportedly memorized the false details about being beaten after someone had provided her with a cassette recording and told her to listen to it repeatedly until she committed to memory.
If she loses asylum status, the woman returns to undocumented life, which means she will not be able to work lawfully in the U.S., freely travel in and out of the country and may lose access to certain public benefits. In the immediate years after asylum status is granted, a person can get job counseling and a variety of government subsidies.
If she has a green card — or, legal permanent residency — she has slightly more protection because the process is more involved. The government would first move to rescind her green card before trying to kick her out of the country.
Ultimately, what happens to the housekeeper will be up to the government's "prosecutorial discretion." Isaacson said there are cases the government won't force someone out of the country, even after fraud has been revealed. The woman reportedly has a teenage daughter in the U.S. and was a victim of female genital mutilation in Guinea. Immigration experts say those facts may persuade the government to let her lies slide
In cases where foreigners have been victims of crimes in the U.S. and deemed "helpful" to the criminal investigations, they can be eligible for a U-Visa. Prosecutors would sign off on the application.
However, if the hotel housekeeper made up her story about what happened during the alleged encounter with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, immigration lawyers say there's little hope the prosecution would even come close to characterizing her involvement as "helpful."