updated 4/28/2005 3:45:14 PM ET 2005-04-28T19:45:14

The U.S. government agreed to pay $87,500 to settle a lawsuit brought by a Kenyan refugee who was denied political asylum in the United States.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which handled the woman’s case, said it it is the first time an arriving refugee has received a settlement in a lawsuit accusing the government of negligence.

Rosebell Munyua, 35, claimed the government was negligent because it sent her back to Kenya, even though she said she told immigration officials she would be killed.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the settlement, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, was not an admission of wrongdoing but declined to comment further.

Munyua arrived with her 2-year-old daughter at the San Francisco airport in 2001 seeking political asylum. Munyua claimed she and her husband were members of an opposition party in Kenya and had been beaten and tortured by Kenyan authorities. Munyua said her husband had gone into hiding in Tanzania.

She said immigration officers interrogated her at the airport and refused her asylum request, forcing her to board the next plane back to Kenya, where she claimed to have gone into hiding for more than six months, according to court documents.

“When my daughter and I were forced by American officials to go back to Kenya I felt like they were pushing us back into a burning house and sending us to our deaths,” Munyua, a nursing assistant in Santa Rosa, said in a statement Thursday.

Successful second attempt
Soon after, she again escaped Kenya and returned to the United States, this time through Houston, where she was granted asylum in 2002.

Munyua sued the U.S. government in 2003, initially seeking $1 million.

Immigration officials in San Francisco said in court papers that Munyua never “sought refuge from them or mentioned that she would be ‘killed’ if she were returned to Kenya.” The government also said Munyua lied to embassy officials in Kenya when she said she did not have family members in the United States.

A judge threw out five other allegations in the lawsuit, including accusations of assault, emotional distress and false imprisonment.

Munyua’s attorneys called the settlement a precedent-setting victory for all future immigrants seeking political asylum in the United States.

“When a woman and child arrive on your doorstep begging for help, you don’t slam the door shut and tell them to go somewhere else,” Philip Hwang said.

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