What happens when women flee violence in Central America but are turned away from our border despite having credible claims of danger in their home countries? Buzzfeed’s John Stanton profiles a 22-year-old woman (not be named to ensure her safety) who fled her native El Salvador after receiving threats from gang members from Mara 18. She arrived safely into the hands of U.S. immigration officials, but “because detainees don’t have a right to representation, there was no lawyer to piece together evidence, meaning officials had only her story to go by. With nothing to back up her claim, she was denied asylum and deported.” Just months after arriving back home, the young woman was “brutally beaten and raped by the gang leader, who declared her his property”:
Nancy Oretskin, the Salvadoran woman’s attorney and the director of the Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute, says changes to asylum law are needed to eliminate a perverse incentive for persecuted people to wait until they are tortured or raped before coming to the United States. “We can’t give them legal protection until they’re raped,” Oretskin said. “And even then, we deport many of them after they’ve been raped, and they’re killed. How does that happen in a civilized society?”
Change is unlikely under the current administration. A few months after President Trump was sworn in, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidance to Department of Justice attorneys that emphasized the need to use prosecutions to “further reduce illegality” and that instructed them to pursue more criminal charges against undocumented immigrants.
In fact, if the Trump administration has its way, it could become ever harder for asylum-seekers. On Sunday the White House proposed a set of changes to immigration law, including new limits on who can qualify for an asylum hearing and new rules to curb the ability of immigration judges to block deportations of asylum-seekers.
And federal law remains “heavily weighted to asylum claims based on state-sponsored persecution,” not gangs plaguing Central American nations. Additionally, unshackled immigration agents have already been championing Trump’s nativist agenda and the administration, under former Homeland Security Secretary and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, faces a lawsuit after agents allegedly and illegally turned away asylum seekers fleeing violence. Border agents have falsely told asylum seekers that “Donald Trump just signed new laws saying there is no asylum for anyone.” The lawsuit also alleged that two asylum seekers turned away included a Honduran mother and daughter who had been “repeatedly raped by MS-13 gang members.” Once at the border, agents denied them a chance to apply for asylum.