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.


DACA Updates

DACA Updates

September 13, 2017

October 31, 2017: Trump announces he will meet with Republican leaders to discuss possible DACA fixes. 

October 15, 2017: Trump states that he will extend DACA protection beyond the March 5th deadline, if Congress is not able to legalize DACA.

October 8, 2017: White House sends Congress a list of hard-line immigration demands that must be included in any DREAMERs bill.

October 5, 2017: U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake introduced legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMERS, while funding border security including what critics say is a “down payment” on President Donald Trump’s border wall.

October 5, 2017: Deadline for DACA recipients whose DACA expires before March 5, 2018 to renew.

October 2, 2017: Trump meets with Republicans to sketch immigration bill requiring three guideline to codify DACA.

September 29, 2017: Republicans say they will not support an immigration bill that does not include funding for Trump’s wall.

September 28, 2017: President Trump urges conservative Republicans in Congress to craft legislation to protect DREAMERS.

September 26, 2017:  Department of Homeland Security announces it will not extend the October 5th deadline for DACA renewals.

September 26, 2017: The White House is expected to ask Congress to approve a Republican wish list of immigration policies as part of a deal to protect DREAMERS which include border security, interior enforcement and merit-based immigration.

September 25, 2017: Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) James Lankford (R-OK) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED).

September 21, 2017: A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News shows most Americans want protection for DREAMERS.

September 19, 2017: Three Hispanic House Democrats are arrested outside Trump Tower during a protest to demand action on shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

September 14, 2017: In a series of tweets, Trump wrote that “no deal” was made on DACA.

September 13, 2017: Democratic leaders announce that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall.

September 6, 2017: A coalition of 16 Democratic and nonpartisan state attorney generals filed suit in New York federal court to stop Trump’s sunset of DACA.

September 5, 2017: Attorney General Jeff Session announces rescinding of DACA.

Stories from Cibola

Stories from Cibola

May 26, 2017

If you drive about 90 miles from Albuquerque into the tiny town of Milan, NM, you’ll come across a large complex surrounded by tall gates and barbed wire–the Cibola County Detention Center. Not long ago, Cibola was a private prison run by the infamous Corrections Corporations of America, or CCA, and was shut down due to medical violations. However, shortly after Trump took office, CCA rebranded themselves as CoreCivic, and Cibola reopened its doors as an immigrant detention center.

Cibola Detention Center

Cibola Detention Center

By March, the detention center was housing the greatest percentage of asylum seekers of any detention center in the country and included the only facility to hold transgender immigrants. Most of the people in this detention center are fleeing violence in their home countries and recently arrived in the U.S. Others have been living in the U.S. for years, but were picked up by ICE and placed in deportation proceedings.

The odds of immigrant detainees finding immigration relief are slim. Nationwide, only 14 percent of detained immigrants receive legal counsel. Without representation in court, immigrants are far less likely to win their cases or even know what type of relief they might be eligible for.

NMILC, in partnership with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, is trying to change that. Twice a week a small team of attorneys and legal assistants give presentations and individual consults to detainees in Cibola. Sometimes, we are even able to directly represent them in court.

In the short time that we’ve been working in the facility, we’ve met many people. These are a few of their stories.


Silvia*, a transgender woman from Mexico, spent several years in the United States after fleeing persecution because of her gender identity. She returned to Mexico when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, but the violence she faced continued. After being trafficked by the Narcos, she knew that she had to find a way to get back to the U.S. She was detained and deported trying to reenter the country and declared herself as an asylum seeker at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since December, she has been moved from one detention center to the next, all while trying to fight her case. In California, she found an attorney to represent her for free, but since being moved to Cibola it has been hard for them to communicate. NMILC attorneys are working with Silvia’s lawyer to bridge the communication gaps and ensure Silvia receives the legal support she needs.


Carlos* had been living in the U.S. for three years when he was stopped by ICE officers while pumping gas. The officers accused him of being a drug dealer, despite the fact that there were no drugs found in his car. ICE transported him to El Paso in a van where his hands and feet were chained along with other detainees. Eventually ICE moved him to Cibola, where he has spent the past month. His girlfriend, who has children and is fighting cancer, is struggling to make things work without his support.

Without legal representation, the odds of getting out of detention on bond with the immigration judge are slim, but NMILC attorney Adriel Orozco was able to represent Carlos in his bond hearing after the two met during one of our weekly trips to the facility. Adriel won the case and now Carlos can return to his loved ones while he fights his deportation case.


Ibrahim* recently graduated from university in West Africa, where he studied politics and foreign languages. A member of a rival political party to the government, Ibrahim had been arrested and detained several times by government police forces after participating in peaceful protests. While detained, he was denied food, forced to do unpaid labor, and tortured.

Things came to a breaking point one night when he was out of the house and the police showed up at his door. The police mistook Ibrahim’s uncle, who was visiting, for Ibrahim himself, and killed him in front of his mother. Knowing his life was in danger, Ibrahim flew to South America and then declared himself as an asylum seeker at the U.S.-Mexico border.

NMILC and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project have worked together to advice Ibrahim on his case and have found a pro bono attorney to directly represent him–greatly increasing the likelihood that he will win his case and be able to remain in the U.S.

Because of you, Silvia, Carlos, and Ibrahim were able to receive the legal assistance they needed to fight their cases. Your support makes this program possible–sponsor a trip to the facility today to ensure more detainees receive the justice they deserve.

Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual