Stories Expose the Cruel Treatment of Those Seeking Refuge In America
The Trump administration and the Republican party claim their border strategy is a success. The excellent reporting excerpted below – by John Stanton, Julian Aguilar, Acacia Coronado, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Hamed Aleaziz and Adolfo Flores – exposes the human rights catastrophe caused by American policies, practices and agents.
Margaret didn’t know what was going to happen when she approached the bridge between Juárez and El Paso, but she knew she couldn’t wait anymore. Six months since fleeing her home after being raped and repeatedly beaten for the crime of being a lesbian, the 20-year-old Ugandan was barely holding onto the last shreds of hope.
Since arriving in Juárez in March, Margaret had waited, waited to get a number from Grupo Beta, the government organization that’s frequently accused of corruption as it oversees the unofficial “line” tens of thousands of asylum seekers unable to pay their bribes are forced to wait in for months in order to cross the bridge, waited inside the walls of the Buen Pastor shelter deep inside one of Juárez’s most dangerous neighborhoods, waited for someone, anyone to help.
So when New Mexico-based lawyer Nancy Oretskin came to the Buen Pastor that September morning and suggested bypassing the line and trying to cross, she quickly agreed. Although she was physically safe within its high, concrete block walls, the neighborhood is violent, and gangs had already killed several people within blocks of Buen Pastor. And while Margaret appreciated the help the shelter had given her, life was still difficult: Almost no one spoke English, and the cramped conditions had resulted in an outbreak of chicken pox. In many ways, Buen Pastor had become a prison.
It was a gamble, to be sure. Even before President Trump came to power, it was never a sure thing that asylum seekers could get into the U.S. to plead their cases. And in the years since Election Day 2016, things had only gotten worse as Trump systematically twisted the asylum system into a tool to punish anyone who dared come to the United States for sanctuary. Those policies had emboldened the worst impulses of CBP, resulting in the historic tensions between immigration attorneys and CBP which were exponentially increasing to the point that even asylum seekers accompanied by members of Congress were being turned away.
Still, there was a chance.
…THE GAMBLE WORKED, but it would prove to be a temporary reprieve.
According to Oretskin, after she made her case to the Border Patrol officers at the checkpoint, they conferred with a supervisor who agreed to let them through. Oretskin accompanied Margaret and Kodi across the bridge onto U.S. soil and into the Immigration and Customs offices on the far side. Both were taken into custody late in the afternoon.
That was the last time she saw of her clients, and what happens next is unknown.
…And for Margaret, a few weeks after her successful border crossing, things took a dark turn. Oretskin couldn’t find her for weeks before DHS disclosed she was being held in the El Paso detention center.
And on Wednesday, she called Oretskin to tell her that U.S. officials had determined that, despite being a lesbian from a country in which it is illegal to be one, and despite having already suffered beatings and a rape, Margaret had no “credible fear” or any way of knowing what would happen if she were sent back. The inexplicable decision once again throws Margaret’s life into turmoil — as soon as early next week she will have a final shot at remaining in the country when a judge hears an appeal of the finding.
When I met Margaret in late August, she had a simple plea. “I pray that everything works out,” she said. “Because it has been so tough. Ever since I was 13, I just wanted to be free, instead of hiding who I am. I just want to be free, that’s all. And happy.”
If the judge denies her appeal, she’ll almost certainly be put on a plane and deported to Uganda, back to a life of terror and hiding, with only her faith in God, and her silence, to protect her.
It wasn’t the first time men with guns showed up at Elizabeth’s door. But this time, they were coming for her.
Six years after gangsters arrived at her house and took her brother away and killed him, Elizabeth, who as a young girl was teased for liking other girls, was running for her life from the same Honduran gang in April.
“We heard their footsteps and saw that they were armed, and they said, ‘This time we get the lesbian,’” she told an asylum officer, according to a transcript of her credible fear interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. (Elizabeth is being used as a pseudonym for the woman to protect her safety.)
Elizabeth’s journey from her native Honduras led her and her mother through Guatemala and Mexico on their way to the U.S. In Mexico, they were confronted by members of a cartel, who Elizabeth said kidnapped and sexually assaulted her for days because she and her mother didn’t have any money or any relatives in the United States who could send them cash. After five days, she said, they were abandoned near a U.S. port of entry.
Elizabeth is now detained in the U.S., but her previous journey through Mexico could spell more trouble for her because of the latest Trump administration policy targeting asylum protections for migrants who didn’t seek asylum in another country before arriving in the U.S.
…Elizabeth gave a sworn statement to asylum officers that in 2013, gangsters and corrupt police officers killed her brother because he declined to be part of their group in Honduras, according to the interview transcript. But an asylum officer told Elizabeth that because of the new regulation, she can’t apply for asylum in the U.S.
The 12-year-old identical twins entered Texas from Mexico days apart in the foothills of Mt. Cristo Rey. One came with their father. The other arrived with their mother.
…The parents had hoped that crossing the border separately, each with one son, would improve the chance that they all would be allowed into the country legally.
But that’s not what U.S. immigration officials decided. They released Nostier Leiva Sabillon and his father in Texas, and sent Anthony Leiva Sabillon and his mother back to Mexico.
…The difference in treatment shows how arbitrary the U.S. immigration system has become as the Trump administration tries to stem the flow of migrants from Central America.
More than 54,000 migrants have been subjected to the controversial policy known as “Remain in Mexico,” which took effect this year and requires most asylum seekers who are not from Mexico to wait there while the U.S. weighs their cases.
…Things looked grim for Nostier and his 39-year-old father, Carlos Leiva Membreño, when they were picked up by the Border Patrol.
“The good news is that you are already in the United States,” an agent told them, according to Leiva. “The bad news is that you are going back to Juarez.”
The pair was detained.
But days later their luck changed. With minimal questioning, they were released with instructions to appear in immigration court in Maryland, where they planned to join relatives.
…Dilcia Sabillon Aceituno, 40, told immigration officials that the family had fled Naco, Honduras, because members of the 18th Street gang — an organization that she said had killed two of her cousins — were pressuring her to put her twins to work for them dealing drugs.
She didn’t want her sons to become criminals.
Border Patrol agents listened, but it didn’t seem to matter. Sent back to Mexico, she and Anthony moved into a migrant shelter in the dangerous Anapra neighborhood to await an Aug. 15 court appearance in El Paso.
A detention center holding immigrant detainees waited more than seven hours to transfer an ailing 37-year-old Mexican man to a hospital, where he died from bleeding in his brain, according to internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News that reveal previously undisclosed details about the death and raise new questions about the man’s treatment.
“In the absence of ICE providing an explanation, a seven-hour delay in responding to this patient does not seem consistent with adequate care,” said Marc Stern, a public health expert and faculty at the University of Washington. “This may have been a preventable death.”
A 43-year-old Cuban asylum-seeker who had gone on a hunger strike after becoming frustrated with his immigration case died of an apparent suicide after months in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, according to an internal government report obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Roylan Hernandez-Diaz’s death was confirmed by ICE officials in a news release Wednesday that provided limited details on the circumstances, including that he had entered ICE custody in May after being apprehended at the El Paso Port of Entry.
…Hernandez-Diaz had been detained at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana, a private prison operated by the firm LaSalle Corrections, while his case was pending before the immigration court, officials said. His death was first reported by Telemundo.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “In our name and with our tax dollars, the Trump administration and the Republican party have created and supported a human rights catastrophe. We are separating families; detaining people in life-threatening conditions; forcing vulnerable people back into violent Mexican border cities; denying asylum and protection to those deserving of it; and watching as those most in need die. In a nation that once prided itself for protecting those fleeing violence and persecution, we now have a government that celebrates sending those seeking refuge back to violence and persecution. Let us work for a future where refugees are rescued, asylum decisions are fair to all, people in need of safe haven are protected, and American agents reflect American values or are held accountable if they do not. We will get there, but not with this crowd in charge.”