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Immigration Officials Trick Central American Refugees Before Deportation

Brenda and her 13 year-old daughter fled Guatemala in 2015 in order to escape men, who tried to kidnap her daughter and are part of a drug ring known for “raping teenage girls.” They sought asylum in the United States, but instead of helping people who were endangered, the U.S. government detained Brenda and her daughter in a detention center in Dilley, Texas. The two were held for 33 days and then deported after the asylum office rejected their claim of having a “credible fear” if they returned home.

This is one of the stories of Central American refugee women and children detailed in a report from the American Immigration Council. The firsthand accounts offer a “glimpse into the experiences of hundreds of women and children, who navigate a formidable emigration-detention-deportation system in the pursuit of safety.”

The report was released nearly a week after news that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would soon launch another round of deportation raids, which targeted women and children.

The White House defended its deportation policy on May 17. “No one is removed if they have an ongoing, pending claim or appeal for asylum or some other form of humanitarian relief,” spokesperson Joshua Earnest asserted. “If this serves to discourage people from considering to make this journey, that would be a good thing.”

Dangerous men, who were after Brenda and her daughter, figured out they fled and failed to get away. Brenda’s husband said the men are more serious about pursuing Brenda and her daughter. They have demanded both sell drugs for the gang, or the gang will “disappear” them.

Her husband moved Brenda and their daughter to another place, where they could hide. “Where they are now, we don’t have any family members that can watch over them. But they call me every day. They are really suffering, but that’s just the way it goes. We have to try and live this way.”

According to Brenda’s husband, they came to the U.S. because they had “no other alternative.”

…Because she was calling me regularly telling me, ‘They—some gang members—are leaving me anonymous notes under the door telling me to give my daughter to the gangs and that she has to sell drugs. And that if I don’t submit my daughter to the gangs to work they are going to rape her and kill me.’ I told her ‘Nothing is going to happen to you, be patient, be patient.’ But then, my wife…found out from a man in our neighborhood that his daughter had been raped by the same people that had chased my daughter several times and threatened her.

When officials deported Brenda and her daughter, the officials manipulated their daughter into believing she was going to be on a plane soon, and the flight would take her to see her dad. It traumatized her so much that she cries when she talks to her dad on the phone now.

We Come To The United States To Protect Our Families

According to the American Immigration Council, women and children routinely face trauma in their effort to seek protection. Often officials do not provide any information about what is happening to them, or mislead them about the fact that they are being sent back to the country they fled.

In 2015, Rosa and her 15 year-old son faced danger in Honduras from the Mara 18, a “powerful transnational criminal organization.” The gang attempted to recruit Rosa’s son. The gang demanded money and “physically assaulted” her son. The police refused to help Rosa unless the gang had killed her son. Rosa fled to the U.S.

The U.S. government detained Rosa and her son at the Dilley detention center for about 32 days instead of offering them safety. Both were deported to Honduras after the asylum office rejected their claim of having a “credible fear” if they returned home.

Rosa’s husband has been living in the U.S. for ten years. He was robbed numerous times and received death threats, which led him to flee Honduras.

Immigration officials tricked Rosa and her son into believing they were going to Virginia and were not being deported back to Honduras, according to Rosa’s husband.

Also, Rosa’s husband said, “She told me was that the officers locked them in the van for two hours while they went into a restaurant and ate. This was on the way to the airport in Houston. They stopped on the way and the officers locked them in with the key, her and my son and another woman and her kid. Then, they kept driving around for a long time, circling around, until it was time for the flight.”

“[There are not protection options in Honduras]—no, no, no. Everyone is leaving there to come [to the United States], to make a better life,” Rosa’s husband added. “[My children] had to start going to another school. I found a private one that has security and protects them while they are there. We also pay a company to accompany them to school and back. Many families have to do that.”

“People [in the United States] hear things about Central Americans, and they think that we come here to start trouble or to bring that delinquency here and it’s not true. We come [to the United States] to protect our families and to overcome the obstacles to have a better life. I truly hope that some kind of legal option can become available to help people who are trying to get away from threats and violence, like my family. Because we need it now more than ever.”

“I Didn’t Get A Fair Chance”

Ana, her 16 year-old daughter, and her 12 year-old son were targeted by gangs. They received death threats, and one gang killed a relative. They fled Guatemala in 2015 to find safety in the U.S., where her husband lives. They sought asylum but were detained at the Dilley detention center for about 25 days. They were deported after the asylum office determined they had no “credible fear” if they were returned home.

“It was so terrible for me and my kids,” according to Ana. “At the end of the day, I think I was treated very unfairly. We were treated terribly by the border officers, and put into the hielera [freezing holding cells] and treated terribly, and then we went to the detention center. It has been very traumatizing.”

Ana contends she “never got a fair chance” to have her case heard.

“They do these interviews [for asylum] that determine your fate, but my interview was during a time when I was not well. I was sick and I was so depressed from being detained that I didn’t get a fair chance to explain myself or to know what was going on,” Ana shared. Then the judge also rejected me, and I was deported before I ever really had a fair chance. I begged them, please, for my children give me another chance to explain why I am here. But they didn’t. I know [the lawyers] tried to help me, but I’m really sad. It smashed my dreams of getting [my children] to safety and reuniting them with their father. The truth is I am very, very sad about it all.”

Back home in Guatemala, Ana and her children live in debt, and she struggles to find jobs that can pay for their needs. They also fear the gangs could threaten their lives at any moment.

“You never get accustomed to living in fear. You never get used to having your daughter followed and threatened,” Ana declared. “I’ve been telling my kids that what I really want is for us to get very far away from here…from this situation. And that road isn’t easy either. There is danger here and there is danger on the journey. It’s very hard to know what to do now because they aren’t safe here and they can’t stay here living this way, so we have some very hard decisions to make.”

“As a mother, the only thing I really want is for my children to be safe and happy. As their mother, I’d give anything to give them the opportunity to not be struggling through life here, to not be in danger here. I’m not the one that matters. Even if it means I have to be here alone, because we don’t have the resources for us all to make that journey again.”

People like Ana, Rosa, and Brenda are trying to save their families from the violence of the Northern Triangle, which is made up of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. It is a region that the American Immigration Council notes is “one of the most dangerous regions in the world.” Murder rates are skyrocketing. Gender-based violence is increasingly an issue. The region is also “devastated by poverty and food insecurity.”

The governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have ceded broad swaths of land in their countries to transnational criminal groups, which engage in drug trafficking and perpetrate violence against citizens.

Rather than help refugees, the U.S. government has sought to deter asylum seekers from coming to the U.S. by sending women and children to “family detention” centers. The U.S. and Mexican government has also implemented a deterrence strategy to prevent Central American refugees from crossing the border, expedite deportation of women and children, and send a message through raids against people with “outstanding removal orders.”

Obama has been responsible for a record amount of deportations. Well over 2.5 million migrants have been deported since 2009, which is more than his predecessor, George W. Bush

“The effectiveness of this aggressive, multi-prong deterrence strategy, however, has not been corroborated,” the American Immigration Council states. “In fact, knowledge of the dangers that surround migration to the United States does not seem to play a role in the decision of those considering migration. Yet, such a strategy has an extremely high human cost.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."