Last Friday, I toured the Baptist Family and Children's Services Shelter in Harlingen, Texas, with the State Bar of Texas Laws Related to Immigration and Nationality Committee. This center provides residential care and services for unaccompanied children who enter the U.S. while authorities determine the appropriate steps toward reuniting them with their families or placing them in an alternate setting.
One challenge that BCFS faces is that of children who "age out" (have their 18th birthday). These young people are no longer eligible for services nor are they eligible for foster care. BCFS tries to find safe places for these young people at adult shelters. They told us the inspirational story of Yalerson Castillo, a young man from Honduras who was a resident until he turned 18. A local family who met him through soccer provided him with a home. He is currently attending Harlingen High School and playing running back on the football team.
Mexican journalist, Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco, who escaped a drug cartel kidnapping last year has been granted asylum in the U.S.
Hernandez's immigration attorney Carlos Spector says the decision may signal a shift in the federal government's thinking on how to handle such cases.
“It’s a welcome decision and it has made the U.S. government more aware,” he said. “It’s one thing to read the reports and the statistics provided by [advocacy groups] Reporters without Borders and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But I think what Alejandro’s case shows is that these aren’t just cartel members killing and repressing the press. I think what is symbolic about his case is that the Mexican government is around the corner or involved directly [in the oppression].”
On July 14, 2011, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released a report on the asylum decisions of 233 individual judges in the nation's special Immigration Courts, based upon asylum decisions made during the period FY 2006 to FY 2011 (through May 4).
Nationally immigration court judges denied 53.2 percent of asylum claims during the period covered by the report. In the San Antonio Immigration Court, judges denied asylum 57.7 percent of the time. However, in looking at the statistics for the individual judges, 2 of the 5 judges had denial rates that are below the national average, but 1 judge had a denial rate that was significantly above the national average.
The denial rates for the individual judges in the San Antonio Court are as follows:
--Judge Gary D. Burkholder denied 86.8 percent of the 266 asylum claims that he heard and was ranked #23 on the list of judges with the highest asylum denials.
--Judge Susan E. Conley de Castro denied 64 percent of the 189 asylum claims that she heard.
--Judge Glen P. McPhaul denied 55.2 percent of the 261 asylum claims that he heard.
--Judge John D. Carte denied 49.1 percent of the 167 asylum claims that he heard.
--Judge Bertha A. Zuniga denied 41.6 percent of the 296 asylum claims that she heard.
The Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez has sought political asylum in the United States since June 2008, when he and his teenage son fled the small town of Ascensción, Chihuahua, in the pre-dawn hours and arrived at the Antelope Wells, N.M., border crossing.
Threatened by the Mexican military for his reporting on its alleged human rights abuses, Mr. Gutiérrez says returning to his native land is a certain death sentence. Whether an asylum judge will agree, however, is far less clear.
A new analysis of the decisions of United States immigration court judges finds that at least two of the five immigration judges in El Paso, where Mr. Gutiérrez’s case is being considered, have a far higher denial rate than the national average. The report, by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan center based at Syracuse University that tracks the enforcement activities of the federal government, analyzed the decisions of 265 immigration judges across the country who have ruled in at least 100 political asylum cases in the last five years. On average, over that period, immigration judges rejected 53.2 percent of asylum applications.
But William L. Abbott and Thomas C. Roepke, both judges in El Paso, had a combined rejection rate of 83.3 percent in 346 cases — most from Mexico and Central America — decided between 2006 and July 2011. Mr. Roepke denied asylum requests in 96.7 percent of his cases — the third-highest rejection rate among the judges included in the Syracuse report.
The denial rate for Mr. Gutiérrez’s judge, Robert Hough, was not determined because he had decided fewer than 100 cases. Earlier this year, Mr. Gutiérrez’s case was postponed until May 2012. The long delay is indicative of another problem highlighted in the Syracuse study: the system is overwhelmed, resulting in a significant backlog of cases.
Kevin Cassasola, the then-14-year-old Honduran boy in the Oscar-nominated HBO documentary "Which Way Home," was granted asylum in the United States earlier this month.
In the documentary, Director Rebecca Cammisa followed children and teenagers riding the trains through Mexico, frequently in search of family members in the U.S. Raed Gonzalez, the Houston immigration attorney who took Kevin's case pro bono, said he could provide few details about the asylum case, which was decided Jan. 13.
"We are thrilled and pray for Kevin's new beginning in the United States," Gonzalez said.
The Migration Policy Institute has a new report out that shows the number of children and teenagers traveling without their parents to the United States has increased during the past decade.
"A Mexican ex-police officer who fled the narcotics violence of Juárez, Mexico, was denied asylum by a federal immigration judge in Dallas.
"The case of José Alarcón was heard in late November in a closed hearing in a federal immigration court here.
"A spokeswoman for the federal Executive Office for Immigration Review said Thursday that the Dallas judge issued an opinion last week. The agency within the U.S. Justice Department didn't disclose a copy of the written opinion.
"Alarcón's case is one of an increasing number of asylum requests made in the last year by Mexicans as the death toll grows in Mexico, where the military and federal agents are fighting cartels and corruption within their own ranks.
"Alarcón, 27, told The Dallas Morning News last year that he refused to be bought off and that he was in a 2008 gunbattle in the border city across from El Paso as a result.
"The Dallas attorney for Alarcón couldn't be reached for comment on whether there would be an appeal."
"The asylum case of a Mexican family whose matriarch was assassinated during a protest could “define the politics of refugee detention” and shape how the U.S. weighs future cases of those fleeing political persecution in Mexico, an El Paso-based immigration attorney said Tuesday.
"The New York Times reported late Monday that the family of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz refused an offer of protection from the Chihuahua state government and instead chose to enter the United States via the international port of entry in El Paso and seek asylum. Escobedo was shot dead two weeks ago as she protested the 2008 murder of her daughter Rubí Frayre, 16, in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Frayre’s alleged killer was arrested but later released by Mexican authorities. Escobedo’s murder was captured by security cameras at the Palacio de Gobierno de Chihuahua in Chihuahua City, the state capital.
“My first reaction was that this case is made for political asylum,” said attorney Carlos Spector. “Marisela’s [case] marks the … beginning of a new type of immigrant. A real political refugee [from Mexico] who is an activist.”