Domestic violence now grounds for asylum

ARTESIA, N.M. — The nation’s top immigration court ruled last week that women who suffer severe domestic violence in their country may be eligible for asylum in the United States — and that decision is already affecting hearings here.

Attorneys at the makeshift detention center for Central American women and their children were successful twice this week in securing asylum for their clients.

On Thursday and Friday, judges heard two domestic violence asylum cases — one a 23-year-old mother of two from Honduras and the other a 36-year-old mother of four from El Salvador. They were the first hearings held at the facility since it opened in late June.

Last week, the Board of Immigration Appeals found in an unprecedented decision that a Guatemalan woman eligible for asylum as part of the “particular social group” category, in this case abused women from particular countries that are unwilling or unable to protect them. The historic decision resolved a nearly 20-year legal battle and offered guidance to courts across the nation.

The decision discussed only Guatemala, but lawyers and advocates say it can impact hundreds of pending cases — and slow the deportation of many of the Central American women who crossed the border with their children this year.

The decision could create a new stream of people seeking asylum, said Muzaffar Chishti with the D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.

“I doubt it will be an exodus, but in the short-term it may increase the numbers of people who were hesitant until now,” Chishti said.

But attorneys and policy experts say there’s no reason to expect a flood.

“Canada has been granting asylum on domestic violence cases for years and has not seen a big uptick,” said Blaine Bookey, associate director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, who assisted in the Artesia cases.

The number of women trying to cross the desert with their children jumped from about 12,000 last year to more than 66,000 this year. Many of them are fleeing entrenched poverty, gang and drug violence — some driven by rumors that the United States was giving families an opportunity to stay.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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2 accused of holding immigrant boy captive

Frances Salas and Jesus Millan-Rodriguez are charged with kidnapping and drug possession related to a Honduran boy being held in a Phoenix apartment.
Frances Salas and Jesus Millan-Rodriguez are charged with kidnapping and drug possession related to a Honduran boy being held in a Phoenix apartment.

Federal investigators rescued a 13-year-old Honduran boy who they say was being held in a Phoenix home and arrested two people on kidnapping and drug-related allegations.

Frances Salas, 27, a U.S. citizen and resident of Phoenix, and Jesus Millan-Rodriguez, 31 and a Mexico native, were arrested Friday and booked into the Maricopa County Jail. Each was charged with kidnapping and possession of marijuana for sale, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement news release said Wednesday.

“This case illustrates yet again the inhumanity of the human smuggling trade,” Matt Allen, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Arizona, said in the release. “The sad but simple fact is, to the smuggling organization, this child is nothing more than a business commodity.”

Investigators suspect the boy was smuggled across the Southern Arizona border, said Amber Cargile, a spokeswoman for ICE in Phoenix, but the investigation is ongoing.

“This is part of the larger phenomenon of juveniles being smuggled into the U.S.,” she said. “While the majority of the unaccompanied alien children are currently being smuggled through South Texas, there continues to be some smuggled through the Arizona border.”

So far this year, more than 66,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended by the Border Patrol. Most of them have crossed through South Texas, but the Tucson and Yuma sectors have caught about 8,000 children and youths — many from Central America.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Guatemalan mom, daughter still hope to stay in US

Passing through Texas in July, Karen Soto, 22, tried to grab some sleep on a Greyhound bus with daughter Lizeth, 6. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

In July, the Arizona Daily Star published the story of Karen Soto and her daughter, Lizeth, who are part of the current spike in families migrating to the United States from Central America.

A Star reporter and photographer followed their journey from Tucson’s Greyhound station to Delaware, where Soto’s brother awaited them.

Soto had her first appointment with an immigration official on Aug. 7. Her documents said Monday, Aug. 7, although the day actually was a Thursday, not Monday.

The address for her meeting was in Baltimore, a couple of hours away. Soto found a church member to drive her, but when they got there, she was told that her appointment was in Delaware, not Baltimore. Officials said the immigration officer was probably given the wrong state of residence for Soto, even though her documents stated she was staying in Delaware.

They drove back to Delaware for the appointment.

“I was nervous,” she said later. “I didn’t know if I was going before a judge and what kinds of questions they were going to ask me.”

But all she did was hand her documents over and within minutes an official gave them back with a new date of Nov. 12.

It’s been more than a month since Soto and Lizeth arrived in Dover, Delaware, and although time has gone by fast, Soto said she misses her family a lot.

But for her 6-year-old daughter, it’s as if she were born here.

“I tell her that we are going back to Guatemala, and she says, ‘You can go back mommy. I’ll stay with my uncle.’”

Lizeth starts school Tuesday, but Soto doesn’t worry about her. “She makes friends wherever she goes.”

For Mexican child migrants, getting caught means failure

Three kids use their chairs as desks while working on a lesson during in a makeshift classroom for young migrants in Nogales, Sonora. Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star.

While many Central American youths look for Border Patrol agents to turn themselves in, Mexican teens do whatever they can to avoid being caught.

The anxiety of leaving their home, being harassed by the police or criminals along their journey, walking through the sweltering desert with little or no water — all would have been for nothing.

There might not be a second chance.

For Silvia, a petite 15-year-old who wears her dark black hair in a messy bun, it meant losing a chance at getting to know the mother who left their home in the state of Guerrero when she was 2 years old.

“If my mom is with me, I stay in my land,” she said in broken Spanish. Her first language is Mixtec, an indigenous dialect spoken in parts of southern Mexico.

But since she’s not, Silvia will wait until she turns 18 and then try to cross again. That way, if she gets caught, she won’t be sent to a Mexican-government-run shelter for unaccompanied youths like the one where she’s lived for the past two months. The Star is not using her last name because she is a minor and it wasn’t possible to seek parental permission.

Apprehension change

Until this year, Mexican children and teens made up the largest share of Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied minors — those without a parent or legal guardian.

In fiscal 2013, 45 percent of the nearly 40,000 Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied minors were from Mexico. So far this fiscal year, about one in five is Mexican. Most come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Central America’s Northern Triangle.

Under a 2008 anti-trafficking law, all children who cross the border illegally must be screened to make sure they don’t fear returning to their country and are not in danger of being trafficked if they are sent back. The burden to prove there’s no reason to keep them in the United States is on the government.

Central American minors are taken to U.S.-government-run shelters and often reunited with relatives already in this country while their immigration cases are pending.

But for unaccompanied minors from contiguous countries — Canada and Mexico — the decision lies with the Customs and Border Protection official who interviews them when they are caught. If minors say they are not afraid to return to their country or if the officer doesn’t think there’s a risk for trafficking or need of international protection, they are sent on their way, sometimes within just a few hours.

The problem, a United Nations confidential report leaked this summer found, is that the system for Mexican children is not working. Normally those under 14 years old who are not considered to be able to make that decision themselves get to stay, but outside of that, very few do, data show.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

For immigrants, who gets detained or released is sometimes just luck

As thousands of women crossed the border with their children this summer, the government opened more detention centers to send the message that they will be sent back if they come illegally.

But the difference between being detained or dropped off at a bus station to reunite with family members in the United States could be a matter of the day they crossed, a chicken pox quarantine — or just plain luck.

Reyna Perdomo left her native El Salvador on June 26. She was caught in South Texas on July 5, a few days after the government opened a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, that can hold nearly 700 women and their children.

Perdomo said she met another woman on her journey. Both of them were brought to Tucson to be processed. But while Perdomo was taken to Artesia, the other woman was sent on her way.

“I cried, because she was only held three days, and she was told to call her family so they could buy her bus ticket to Minnesota,” Perdomo said recently from the Border Patrol training facility in southeastern New Mexico. Perdomo also has family in Minnesota.

She’s been detained for more than two months, with limited access to an attorney who can prepare her asylum claim. Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say that’s all too common, and on Friday they sued the federal government for creating what they called an illegal “deportation mill,” where women seeking protection from violence in their home countries are not being given their fair day in court.

“You can’t win an asylum case if you don’t have the time to put it together,” said Laura Lichter, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and one of the attorneys who has spent time in Artesia. “It’s an extremely complicated area of law.”

About two-thirds of the women in Artesia would have successful asylum claims, Lichter said, if they were represented by an attorney and had time to prepare their cases.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

End ‘deportation mill,’ lawsuit demands

Civil-rights groups are asking the government to stop its “deportation mill” until it can guarantee a fair day in court for the Central American women and children being held at a New Mexico detention center.

A coalition of lawyers said in a lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of seven women and three children that the government is violating the women’s due process by implementing policies to deport them as quickly as possible and limit their access to attorneys. That makes it extremely difficult for them to win their asylum claims, the attorneys said.

“They’ve been told almost from the moment they are apprehended by the Border Patrol, ‘You will be deported,’ ” Cecilia Wang, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director for the Immigrants’ Right Project, said during a teleconference with reporters.

“The interagency response to this unprecedented surge has been both humane and lawful,” said Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an email statement. “As a matter of policy, we do not specifically comment on pending litigation.”

The number of unaccompanied minors and families crossing the border has reached unprecedented numbers this year. Some are trying to escape poverty, others are seeking to reunite with family members, and others are fleeing violence.

To stem the flow, the government launched a campaign to deter people from coming that includes detaining and quickly deporting those who don’t qualify for relief.

Nearly all of the women and their children held in a makeshift family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico — about three hours from El Paso — are in expedited-removal procedures, which means they don’t go before an immigration judge unless they claim a fear to return to their country.

But to plead their case before a judge, they have to pass a credible-fear interview by an asylum officer — and that’s where the problem is, the attorneys said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Central American lawmakers make immigration-related visit to Tucson

Members of the Central American Parliament called for comprehensive U.S. immigration reform and the creation of more opportunities in their countries as a way to help stem the flow of unaccompanied minors and families traveling to the United States, during a visit to Southern Arizona this week.

“We believe in comprehensive immigration reform that has a vision of not only the free flow of goods, but also people, because the majority of Latin American immigrants come to contribute and enrich this country,” said Jorge Aguilar, a representative from Honduras.

But the legislators also said that in order to solve the problem, their governments must do more so people can stay.

Central American countries have gone through diverse and complex situations from civil wars and armed conflicts to hurricanes and earthquakes, said Giovanni Jacobs, from Guatemala. Those factors contribute to people’s decision to leave for the United States, he said.

Representing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — three of the six countries that make the political institution — the legislators on Tuesday and Wednesday visited the Border Patrol in Nogales, a new shelter for unaccompanied minors in Tucson and the immigration detention center in Florence. They were here to learn firsthand about the plight of Central Americans, especially minors, crossing the border illegally and surrendering to immigration officials.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.