Thursday, June 16, 2011

Texas Legal Case Opens Door For Mexican Asylum Seekers

Photo credit: Angela Rutherford

More than 21,000 Mexicans have sought asylum in the United States since President Felipe Calderón initiated a head-on war against drug cartels in 2006. Yet, in that time less than 4% of applicants have been approved. More asylum seekers now stand a better chance thanks to a little-known legal case out of Texas. Hernán Rozemberg of our Fronteras Desk has the story.
June 16, 2011 · He never aspired to anything heroic, but he is proud of always maintaining his integrity and moral values. As he witnessed his country crumbling due to the growing power and influence of drug cartels, he realized he could put his knowledge and expertise to help his government fight organized crime. While he does not regret the decision, there were many moments he was unsure he would live to tell.
“The truth is that I’m free; I’m safe. That’s the main thing.”
This 44-year-old Mexican citizen agreed to tell his story only if he remains anonymous. Not even specifics about his line of work in Mexico can be revealed. Because he was well known in Mexico for assisting law enforcement, he believes if his identify or whereabouts are disclosed, he will be found and killed.
He speaks from experience. It all started with what he naively thought were empty threats.
“They were telling me we’re going to fry your balls, we’re gonna kill you,” he said.
He survived a kidnapping and four assassination attempts.
“There’s no way to describe it, the feeling that you have when they are telling you that you’re going to die. You know your life is in their hands, so I was begging, begging for my life.”
It was in such grisly detail that he described his tale of survival in a federal immigration court in Texas last month. To the layman, it could seem like an open and shut case. The man should get asylum; if sent back to Mexico, he would be killed.
Many lawyers refused to take his case because he has a prior deportation on his record. Therefore, he had to meet an even higher threshold of proof to meet asylum eligibility requirements. In the end, however, Texas attorney Juan Gonzalez represented him in court, and the immigration judge was convinced.
“I think that’s what the judge saw, that this individual was working with law enforcement, but not working for or could be identified as law enforcement,” said Gonzalez.
The difference may be subtle, but it has tremendous legal implications. The vast majority of asylum cases involving Mexican law enforcement officers have been rejected.
William Humble represents a former Juárez cop who applied for asylum in Dallas in January.
“Government attorneys are opposed to these cases, and the judges are persuaded by that opposition. The line of reasoning goes like this: The harm that you suffered in Mexico is not persecution. It’s the life you chose when you signed up to be a police officer," said Humble.
That is what makes this latest case so unique. In an unprecedented move, the judge approved the application based on social group status — the group including anyone working with Mexican law enforcement to combat organized crime. A new door is now open for others, such as military contract drivers and suppliers, or private investigators hired to assist government agents.
Steven Yale-Loehr is an asylum expert at Cornell University Law School.
“It gives hope to other people that if they have the same kind of facts, they may be able to win asylum or other relief in the United States,” Yale-Loehr.
Yet, the ruling sets a precedent opposed by federal officials. Yale-Loehr says it is no coincidence that the approval rate for Mexican asylum seekers has always been extremely low.
“We fear that if we give too many people asylum from Mexico, we’ll start a flood of people trying to come into this country,” Yale-Loehr.
Publicly, at least, the Homeland Security Department is not talking about the Texas case. Prosecutors declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. It remains unknown if they will appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, the Mexican man who won the case is joyous he gets to remain safe north of the border. There’s nothing more he would like, however, than to erase the recent nightmarish years and start over back home.
“I hope, and I pray things in Mexico change. It’s not going to be easy. But I hope it happens one day. Then I can go back to my country.”

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