Beating the Odds in an Asylum-Free Zone

Beating the Odds in an Asylum-Free Zone

November 30, 2017

This fall, NMILC beat the odds and won asylum for a domestic violence survivor fighting against deportation in the notoriously difficult El Paso, Texas immigration court.

Mayra* grew up in a household with domestic violence in Mexico, and she yearned to find a safe and loving home. When a neighbor boy started courting her at age 11, she was flattered. At the age of 16, she married him and they had a child together. Mayra’s husband started out as controlling. Over the years he became increasingly physically abusive, but Mayra was terrified to leave.

When her husband held a knife to her neck in front of their pre-teen son, Mayra decided it was finally time to end the relationship. She and her husband divorced, she reported the abuse to the police, and she pursued a criminal case against her husband. Charges were filed against her husband, but he was never taken to jail nor made to pay restitution.

Despite these efforts, the violence against Mayra escalated. She tried to move to another city, but her ex-husband found her and continued to make threats against her. One day, he threatened her with a gun and she was only saved because a neighbor was in view. Mayra again reported the events to the police and obtained an order of protection.

Her ex-husband responded by continuing the stalking. When he followed her in his truck, she drove to the police office and her ex-husband followed. Police officers saw Mayra’s ex-husband violating the order of protection, but still simply told Mayra to go home and did not arrest him. He was back at her home shortly afterwards, continuing to threaten her.

As her appeals to the police continued to go unanswered, Mayra decided that she had to leave Mexico to find safety. After presenting herself at the border and explaining why she was seeking asylum, Myra was allowed to enter the United States with an ankle monitor while her case was pending. Under the current administration, many asylum seekers are not so lucky: the administration is seeking to increase detention capacity so that all asylum seekers are detained for months while their cases are processed.

Mayra joined family members who were living in the Albuquerque area. Nationally, about half of asylum cases are granted and half are denied, but these rates vary greatly based on where the case is heard. In more friendly jurisdictions, such as the immigration court in Arlington, Virginia, about two thirds of asylum cases are granted. In New Mexico, cases are heard in El Paso, Texas, which is one of the most difficult jurisdictions in the country for asylum—immigration judges in El Paso deny a whopping 95% of asylum cases. To make matters worse, Mayra’s case was before a judge who grants only 1.6% of asylum cases. However, Mayra didn’t have the financial resources to move to a jurisdiction that would be more likely to grant her claim.

Mayra was referred to NMILC through our partnership with Centro Savila—a community mental health center in Albuquerque—and we quickly got to work assembling a team to work on her case. Volunteer translators assisted with the translation of hundreds of Mexican legal documents to present as evidence. Dr. Shannon Stromberg, Associate Professor and Medical Director of Inpatient Services at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, provided a free psychological assessment, which helped demonstrate to the court that Mayra’s claims were credible and why she could not return to Mexico. Dr. Miguel Díaz Barriga, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, provided an expert affidavit and testimony explaining that it would be unsafe for Mayra to return to Mexico. NMILC attorneys Eva Eitzen and Linda Wilson prepared the case and presented it to the judge. Jose Blanton and Taylor Zangara, attorneys from the Rodey Law Firm, worked to secure another form of immigration relief for Mayra’s son in the event that the case was denied. And of course, Mayra had the hardest and most important part—testifying in court about what had happened to her and facing cross-examination by ICE attorneys.

In the end, Mayra was one of the few lucky ones. She testified consistently and bravely, and the judge was not able to deny her case because of the amount of proof she assembled. Her case was granted, and she can now focus on rebuilding her life. Her son is enrolled in high school and is quickly learning English. Both are finally excited about the future. They will be eligible to apply for permanent residence in one year, and eventually hope to become U.S. citizens.

“Working with Mayra was an honor. She taught me so much about bravery and persistence,” said Eva Eitzen. “It took a lot of helping hands to make this case work, but together we beat the odds.”

This victory would not have been possible without your support. It is difficult to find funding for complex asylum cases because many grantors want to see a higher volume of cases than is possible with resource-intensive cases such as Mayra’s. However, with your help, we are committed to advocating for survivors of domestic violence and other asylum seekers.

Because of your support, Mayra and her son have safety and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Consider making a tax-deductible donation today to allow us to continue providing life-changing services to people like Mayra.

* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.