By Esther Lee
May 20, 2016
Rosa Elida Castro and her child fled from El Salvador, when her ex-husband sexually abused her and gangs threatened her, to seek asylum — a form of humanitarian relief that allows immigrants to stay in the United States if they can prove “credible fear” of torture or persecution in their home countries. But she never got a chance to make her case to an immigration judge.
Instead, a federal immigration border official gave her a cursory interview while she was “sick, disoriented, and traumatized,” and her asylum case was rejected, according to case filed on Castro’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She and her child were sent to a family immigration detention center to await deportation proceedings.
According to the ACLU, Castro isn’t alone. A group of 64 Central American women and children are arguing that their evaluation processes — the first step in mounting a successful asylum case — were “inadequate,” resulting in their applications being unfairly denied. Those families are now serving as petitioners of a case to test whether the Obama administration is going too far to deport immigrants without allowing them to fully represent their cases in federal court.
“The administration is asking the court of appeals to rule — for the first time in the country’s history — that noncitizens on U.S. soil are not entitled to go to federal court to challenge the legality of their removal,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told ThinkProgress. “If the court of appeals adopts the administration’s position, it would create an unprecedented situation in our nation’s history and would have ramifications well beyond these Central American families.”
Other petitioners who say their asylum applications weren’t properly processed include a woman and her 7-year-old son who left Honduras to escape from a gang leader who threatened to kill them if she didn’t have sex with him and a woman and her 7-year-old son who left El Salvador after receiving death threats from gangs.
These people are among thousands of Central Americans mothers and children who have shown up at the southern U.S. border over the past several years in the hopes of escaping the dangerous conditions in their home countries.
In response, an overwhelmed Obama administration decided to prioritize and expedite the deportation of women and children who lacked credible claims of asylum. But in the administration’s effort to get border agents to quickly review these asylum claims, there’s growing evidence that the screening process has broken down.
Agents regularly fail to ask basic questions that would help move asylum cases forward, like whether immigrants are afraid to return to their home countries. Instead, they’re often engaged in “expedited removal” or “reinstatement of removal” to speed up the deportation process for immigrants. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report found that fewer than half of immigrants who expressed fear of return were actually referred for further assessment of their potential asylum cases before they were deported.
According to the ACLU’s petition, many of the families in this specific case were ordered deported after “seriously flawed” interviews with government officials. The petition argues that ultimately, despite the fact that the mothers and children never had a chance to present their cases in front of an immigration judge, the U.S. government was still planning to return them “to the persecution from which they fled.”
In particular, many of the habeas petitioners could be returned to dangerous situations in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, three of the most violent countries in the world.
A recent American Immigration Council report found that women recently deported back to these countries have received threats; been too afraid to leave their homes; been forced to hire private security for their family members to get safely to and from home; and faced economic hardship because they can’t leave their houses to find work.
“These women and children are facing grave harm if they remain in Central America,” Gelernt said. “They have come as legitimate asylum seekers and deserve a chance to prove their cases… The administration is taking an unnecessarily harsh stand against these families, who are fleeing horrendous conditions.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com