“She was told that if she failed to pay again, they would first rape her once more and then kill her son.”
My brother recently returned from a 10-day volunteer stint representing women and children who have crossed the border from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. They are being held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, euphemistically called a “family residential center.”
My brother is an attorney and represents these families in “credible fear” interviews that ultimately lead to a judge’s ruling that decides their fate.
There’s more to the legal process than that, but I need to share the stories of three women my brother met this month. These women, and potentially their children, are at risk of deportation (to the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), under the administration’s ramped-up “security” plans.
Mr. President, do you want to send them back? Here is what awaits them.
My brother writes:
- One Salvadoran woman who sold simple clothing items as a street vendor (a very common means of survival for many women) saw four of her fellow vendors, two women and two men, shot to death in a period of 7 weeks by the “mareros” (gang members) for failure to meet extortion demands. After the fourth killing, she decided that she could no longer protect her child and must flee, leaving behind her family, friends and everyone and everything that was part of her life.
- Another woman, from Guatemala, who walked six minutes in the dark to the nearest bus stop at 5 a.m. every day to go to her job in a factory, was beaten and raped on two occasions (and extorted numerous times), by a marero whose partner held a gun to her head the entire time. She had been paying the gang’s increasing extortion demands for several weeks until she no longer could afford to pay her rent and food for her 4-year old son. After the second rape, the marero told her that this was a lesson to her and also for her son (a beautiful, high-functioning little boy) when the gang’s demands are not met. She was told that if she failed to pay again, they would first rape her once more and then kill her son.
- A third Salvadoran working woman refused to agree to MS’s demand that she make her 8-year old son available to them to deliver drugs and to be groomed for membership in MS in a couple of years. They also demanded, on three separate occasions, that she pay extortion each week. After she had refused three times, on both counts, the mareros then came to her home, entered by force and told her this was her last chance. With her son cowering behind her, she again refused. The mareros then grabbed her and set her clothes on fire. Yes, the clothes she was wearing. She suffered serious burns on her left arm, shoulder and hand, but she had saved her son for the time being. They fled the country for the safety of the U.S. as soon as she was released from the hospital.
“These are just a few of the many accounts we hear, week in and week out, from women who never asked to be extorted, raped, threatened and beaten,” my brother wrote. “They were unfortunate enough to have been born and raised in these places, where the gangs are the de facto government, the police are corrupt or terrified of the gangs and the official government is helpless to protect its own citizens.
“Violence and fear are a part of their everyday lives. Gang members roam the hallways of schools looking for recruits (boys) and sex slaves (girls), starting at a very young age, with the administrators and teachers helpless to stop them. These are good people who need our help.
“Please understand this is not a matter of politics. It’s about humanity.”
The Trump administration has ramped up its plans to round up and deport asylum seekers like these women, along with undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. less than two years. The feds are casting a wide net with the “expedited removal” policy, and it is causing widespread fear among millions of law-abiding, tax-paying people.
A plea: My brother — who has signed on for his fourth trip to Dilley this spring — is volunteering through the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a collection of attorneys and others who provide free legal representation.
If you’re moved to help with these efforts, please use the link above to help the CARA Pro Bono Project and its four founding organizations — the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, American Immigration Council, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association).