Immigration officials denied an El Salvador woman and her 12-year-old daughter a second asylum hearing, even after they became aware of the fact that the MS-13 gang raped the woman multiple times in El Salvador and threatened to kill her family and rape her daughter. Adding to the trauma that forced her to flee her home country, the woman also says her daughter was molested inside a detention center in Karnes, Texas, and had filed the appeal in an effort to block her deportation.
According to court documents, the woman's asylum interviewer was initially unaware that she had been raped, and ruled that she did not meet the "credible fear" criteria required for asylum and would be deported. The woman, referred to in court documents by her initials E.G.S., did not have a lawyer present during the hearing, and said later that she was hesitant to discuss her rape because she didn't think officials cared, after a border patrol officer dismissed her when she tried to talk about it when she was first detained. She also said that she did not feel comfortable discussing her own rape in front of her 12-year-old daughter, who was with her during the interview.
"After the border patrol officer [...] refused to show compassion or understanding when E.G.S. attempted to share what had happened, she felt that she couldn’t trust anyone with her story, including the asylum officer," court documents filed by E.G.S.'s attorney state.
While E.G.S.'s experience with the asylum process is infuriating and tragic, it is hardly unique. Denise Gilman, who directs the University of Texas's immigration law clinic, said asylum interviews are often rushed and do not fully hear claims of persecution.
"Really, the problems start at the border, when a woman and child is forced into a detention center and undergoes an interview from that setting in order for them to even to be able to present their [asylum] claim in court," Gilman said in a phone interview. "For women who have just undergone arduous journeys after suffering extreme, often gender-based violence in their home countries, it is to be expected that they won't always be able to express themselves the way that they need to pass these interviews."
E.G.S.'s attorney filed a petition for a second asylum interview, including a declaration from E.G.S. asserting that she was raped. But the appeal was still denied.
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The attorney has filed a second appeal, and an assessment from a social worker included in the court documents concluded the woman "is a victim of extreme sexual violence, intimidation and stalking."
During the assessment, "E.G.S. cried frequently and had difficulty looking at me while recounting details of her trauma history," the social worker wrote. "Specifically, when discussing the sexual assaults by gang members, she covered her eyes as though to separate herself from the words she was speaking. [...] My professional opinion is that E.G.S. displays symptoms of severe post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression due to the violence she experienced and the knowledge that she has no protection in her country."
"There needs to be much more seriousness about the interview process itself, and there needs to be a mechanism in place for acknowledging that there have been mistakes in interviews or that there wasn’t a full chance to tell the story so that a new interview could be granted," Gilman said.
It remains to be seen whether the feds will grant the woman another chance at asylum, or if she will be stuck in detention before being deported back to her home country.