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A Salvadoran mother who fled to the United States after the Mara Salvatrucha gang threatened her life and murdered her son is petitioning an international tribunal to prevent her deportation to El Salvador.
The woman, represented by Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), has been detained in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody at county jails in rural southern Illinois and in Missouri. NIJC’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights argues that “D.S.” (publicly identified only by initials for her protection) was denied due process and the right to seek asylum, and that her deportation would violate international human rights laws. The petition asks the commission to adopt “precautionary measures” directing the U.S. government not to deport D.S., and the Salvadoran government not to issue travel documents that would facilitate her deportation.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. asylum screening process failed D.S.,” said Mark Fleming, NIJC’s national litigation coordinator. “Appealing to this international organization is her last resort to avoid deportation to El Salvador, where she knows she will likely be killed.”
NIJC met D.S. through a jail “Know Your Rights” legal information presentation and learned that she appeared for her initial asylum screening, known as a credible fear interview, via telephone without a lawyer and without any information regarding the asylum process. Based on that cursory interview, the DHS Asylum Office rejected her request for protection. NIJC requested a second interview, providing an affidavit outlining her claims and a legal memorandum explaining why she should be allowed to present her case to an immigration judge. In a one-paragraph faxed response, DHS rejected this request as well, and denied her an opportunity to present evidence to support her claim for asylum.
El Salvador, a nation of 6.4 million people, recently was labeled the murder capital of the world and has the world’s highest murder rate of women. Mara Salvatrucha members targeted D.S.’s family after her oldest son refused to join the gang, extorting money and food from D.S. and demanding she surrender her daughter to be a gang “girlfriend” or face death. After D.S.’s oldest son fled to the United States, the gang retaliated and murdered her younger son. Unable to obtain protection in El Salvador, D.S.’s daughter fled to the United States. Throughout this ordeal, D.S. also suffered extensive abuse at the hands of her domestic partner, preventing her from fleeing with her children. However, fearing for her life, once her children fled, D.S. felt she too needed to escape El Salvador.
“The fact that someone like D.S. cannot pass a credible fear interview raises serious concerns about the ability of this screening process to ensure bona fide asylum seekers have access to protection,” said Ashley Huebner, managing attorney, NIJC’s Asylum Project. “DHS detains traumatized survivors of persecution and forces them to present complex legal arguments without lawyers or information about their rights, and without access to evidence. Worse, when errors are made in this process, asylum seekers are denied judicial review to overturn those errors.”