Asylum seeker challenges removal

BROWNSVILLE — A complaint was filed in a federal court this past week on behalf of an asylum seeker who is stuck in Matamoros as a result of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols.

The extensively detailed, 53-page document was a petition for a writ of habeas relief accompanied by a request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the government from transporting the 23-year-old Honduran woman, referred to as X.E.G.M., back to Mexico.

According to the petition, the woman entered the United States at Hidalgo on July 27. She fled Honduras after experiencing threats against her person and physical violence at the hands of the Honduran military police.

The woman was a member of various student organizing groups in Danlí, El Paraíso, Honduras, and was targeted as a result of her activism. The document clarifies that X.E.G.M. entered the U.S. on land and was apprehended on U.S. soil, rendering her ineligible to be removed from Mexico as a part of the MPP guidelines.

She was present in the United States on Nov. 20, the day the petition was filed, for a hearing with an immigration judge at the tent court system set up in a parking lot at the Gateway International Bridge.

The various documents sought the intervention of the federal court system to execute a stay of the woman’s return to Mexico. Neither U.S. immigration courts nor the Board of Immigration Appeals maintains the jurisdiction to grant such a stay of removal.

Those sent back to Mexico under MPP are not considered to be in the custody of DHS and its corresponding agencies and therefore have no way to alter their situation, requiring the intervention of the federal courts.

Attorneys requested immediate intervention from U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr., writing that the woman had an affirmative asylum application (form I-589) prepared and ready to submit to USCIS as soon as the immigration judge either dismissed her case or granted her bond.

That the woman would be granted a bond hearing allowing her to enter the U.S. from Matamoros would be unlikely in light of recent policy decisions put in place by the Trump administration.

A July 16 policy implemented by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bars asylum seekers who have arrived at the U.S./Mexico border from gaining refugee status if they failed to apply for asylum in a “third country” they transited before reaching the U.S.

On Tuesday, a judge ruled that the rule did not apply to refugees who sought asylum at U.S. ports of entry along the border before July 16.

Lawyers argued that the woman should not have been removed from the country after she entered on foot. The petition alleged that the case was being tried under the MPP guidelines, although the woman should have been classified as having Entered Without Inspection, or EWI.

A proper designation of EWI applied to the woman’s case would subject her to an entirely different asylum process called INA 235 (under the Immigration and Nationality Act). As a result, X.E.G.M. was never interviewed by an asylum officer, which attorneys alleged was in violation of the due process rights afforded to her by the legislation.

The document cited record levels of violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which human rights groups have compared to conditions of those in war zones.

Additionally, attorneys wrote that the woman “has fended off daily attempts by individuals” in the refugee camp where she resides to sexually assault her.

If the woman were to be denied bond, or if the immigration judge refused to terminate her case and grant her yet another hearing months down the road, she would be stuck in Mexico with no recourse for her situation, according to the petition.

The attorneys expressed additional fears that even if the woman’s case were properly terminated, returning her to Mexico would expel her from the jurisdiction of the federal court system with no future hearing dates, preventing her from starting the process over.

The petition cited testimony from an MPP attorney in which Department of Homeland Security officials informed her that even if her client were granted bond, DHS would refuse to accept payment.

Rodriguez denied the emergency motion for a temporary restraining order on the grounds that the attorneys submitted “unverified” claims of the client’s ongoing state of homelessness in the refugee camp in Matamoros.

The judge did, however, allow for the woman and her attorneys to move for a preliminary injunction, giving her the opportunity to provide evidence of the allegations. Since she is no longer present in the U.S. as a result of the petition’s denial, it remains unclear as to how the case will proceed.

Dangerous conditions in the camps in Matamoros are well-documented and residents have previously told The Brownsville Herald that immigration judges in the tent court system have not even looked at evidence indicating that the asylum applicants feared for their lives.

The two attorneys, who were working on the behalf of Justice For Our Neighbors in the San Antonio region, were not immediately available to comment on the situation.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com