After Obtaining US Asylum, Honduran Man May Have To Return To Mexico
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / August 7, 2019
Speaker 1: 00:00 One reason president Trump is facing protestors on his visit to El Paso is the way he's handled the influx of Central American immigrants at the border. Many are waiting months in Mexico to make their claims of asylum in the u s only about 10% of asylum seekers win their cases and are allowed to live in the United States. But even winning may not be enough for one asylum seeker. An immigrant who was subject to the Trump administration's remain in Mexico policy spent months in Tijuana while his asylum case was heard this week. He became the first remain in Mexico asylum seeker to win his case. But even with that, when his attorney says prosecutors are threatening to send him back across the border while they decide whether to appeal the ruling, joining me by Skype is his attorney, Robin Barnard with the legal advocacy group, human rights first. And Robin, welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. Tell us about your client. Why is he seeking asylum in the US?
Speaker 2: 01:02 We're using the name Alec, uh, to preserve his privacy and, and protect him in case he is, um, sent back to Mexico. Uh, he's actually been granted asylum now, so he's recognized refugee under our laws here in the United States. He was seeking asylum based on his status as an evangelical Christian leader in his community in Honduras. Um, because of his work as an evangelical leader, uh, he was targeted by the gang Mara Salvatrucha or [inaudible]. Uh, he was shot. He was attacked and threatened with death on multiple occasions by the gang because of his work in the community, um, which included, uh, evangelizing youth that had been, um, in the gangs and he was actually successful in getting several gang members to leave that past and joined his church. And for that reason, he drew the ire of, um, ms 13, and had to flee to save his life. And an immigration judge actually recognize that that was a lawful basis for refugee status in the United States yesterday. The judge unequivocally granted him protection in the United States based on that religious status.
Speaker 1: 02:12 Now, Alec has been subject to the remain in Mexico policy while his case went through the legal process. What has that been like for him?
Speaker 2: 02:19 It's been incredibly hard. Eloqua is among the first group of asylum seekers that were returned to your wanna in January of this year under the remain in Mexico policy. And he's been waiting in Tijuana for six months for his day in court. Uh, he had no work permit issued by the Mexican government. He had no assistance from the Mexican government while he was waiting until Juana. He was entirely reliant on the charity of, of others. Uh, he had shelter at a church, uh, which was very fortunate to find, uh, because he had no means of income in Mexico while he was waiting. So as you can imagine, it was very difficult. And then he's also been fearful for his life while been waiting into your wanna. Uh, there have been instances of, uh, a kidnapping threat just recently. His room was, was broken into and his belongings stolen.
Speaker 2: 03:10 Uh, he also was threatened with deportation by Mexican police despite showing them that he had a temporary visa and was waiting for his unit u s immigration court hearing. He was told by the police in response, this is Mexico, not the United States. Um, so he's terrified to go back. Uh, and we thought that, you know, after waiting six months after filing hundreds of pages of evidence to support his claim and then spending hours in court yesterday testifying that after the judge granted him protection that his fight would be over and that he would have some relief to be here and safety. Um, and then immediately at the end of the hearing, the Department of Homeland Security Attorney announced that he would be taken back into custody while they decided whether to appeal that decision granting him asylum.
Speaker 1: 03:58 Do you know why prosecutors are considering appealing that ruling?
Speaker 2: 04:02 I don't, um, they don't have to give us any reasons at this point because they do have the right to appeal. Likewise, if the judge had decided to deny asylum, we would have the right to appeal that decision as well. But in this case, the judge decided that Alec met the standard for being granted refugee protection. Um, and he has a sponsor here in the community that is ready and willing to receive him and welcome him into the United States. He has an attorney who will vouch for his future appearance in court and more of the court and DHS have, um, cleared him French into the United States. There were numerous security checks that the department runs before a merits hearing like this. And yesterday the, the DHS attorney told the court that those checks had been run and that he was cleared, which means that there's no criminal record for his name for him here in the United States or elsewhere. Um, and the judge found him to be a credible witness.
Speaker 1: 05:00 You've said forcing Alec to leave the country while an appeal was underway would be illegal and totally unprecedented. Why is that?
Speaker 2: 05:08 So? It's totally unprecedented because this is a brand new policy that's been implemented this year by the United States government. Uh, and Alec, as far as we're aware, is the first person under the policy to be granted asylum. And so there is no precedent for, for the situation. Um, however, you know, when we have people, clients in detention who are granted asylum, it is a matter of course that they're, they're released from detention that day in recognition of the court having granted them protection. Uh, similarly, Alec shouldn't be put into a detention cell or sent back to Mexico even while the government is appealing. Um, he's been found to be a refugee. The security checks had been cleared and he has council that is vouching for his, his appearance in the future. And so there's, there's no reason for him to have to be detained while this person's is way.
Speaker 2: 05:58 Where is Alec today and what do you expect is going to happen? As far as I'm aware, he is at a port of entry along the u s border and the custody of customs and border protection. Um, sometimes those sells a call to Alaras because they're usually small cells that, um, are very cold and are cement and there's no place to sleep or anything like that. So as far as we're aware, that's where he is still. Um, because we haven't heard from him and he, we have no way of contacting him while he's in CBP custody. Uh, I hope that the government will recognize that the judge's decision was, was correct and was true according to our laws and the evidence that was presented. Um, and I don't think he should be punished any further. He should be welcomed into our community as a refugee. I've been speaking with attorney Robyn Barnard with the legal advocacy group, human rights first. Robyn, thank you. Thank you.
A Honduran asylum-seeker, whose attorneys said became the first person on Tuesday to gain refugee status in the U.S. under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy, may be sent back to Mexico while the government considers appealing the immigration judge’s decision.