I went to an Immigration Merits Hearing at the Dallas Courts recently — the last hearing before an individual or family is deported or given asylum — and this young mother and child from Guerrero, Mexico lost, as asylum seekers in the majority of these cases do. Although the judge admitted that the young woman "might be in danger," he said he could do nothing about the consequences such criminal activity effects on these poor folk in the countries from which they are escaping. The actions perpetrated in such countries were individual criminal proceedings, not governmental undertakings, and thus the people who suffered individually were not privy to meriting asylum under our government statutes, according to the judge's ruling.
|Ternura, by Oswaldo Guayasamin © 1989|
As a majority, do these judges have blinders on? Do they not see the massacres committed by the cartels of Mexico, or the maras throughout Central America (that we deported!), gangs that have taken over entire populations, becoming a de facto, criminal and parallel local government, so that people in these countries cannot live in peace?
These refugees are fleeing for their lives; they are not economic refugees, as the immigration courts so often want to make everyone believe, or as many judges delude themselves into thinking.
Instead, judges deceive everyone — including themselves — by stating young mothers' stories as filled with discrepancies, their credulity doubtful, and their exaggerations tantamount: how can these "liars" and "illegal aliens" live in our midst, they proclaim?
A few weeks ago I went to listen to an anthropologist from El Salvador — Juan José Martínez D'Aubuisson — at the Wild Detectives Café/Bookstore, a literary & artistic venue in Dallas. He spoke about the development and rise of the Mara Salvatrucha; he lived with them for a year, so he is the perfect expert witness. I wondered if he could ever make these judges realize how they hurt the people they are deporting: they could be repeating the same history of the 1980s, except the people they are now exiling are not gangs: they are families, mostly women and children, and deportation for them often times means a death sentence, or a radical worsening of their life conditions. If these judges had only come to listen to this young anthropologist, they would have realized how his testimony disqualified and refuted the sweeping statements they summarily make every day, without realizing the ramifications they perpetrate on entire families sent back to their almost certain deaths.
When I listened to the judge speak to this young mother a few weeks ago, his condescension and disdain were oozing. He did not look at her but glared his beady steel blue gaze around the courtroom to see who was present. I thought that in Pro Se cases — where there are no lawyers representing the respondent — it is the judge’s duty to be fair and to listen to the respondent’s side, at least asking questions to make it seem as equitable as possible, so that "Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee... A lawsuit is not a game, where the party with the cleverest lawyer prevails regardless of the merits.” (Gamet v. Blanchard)
Such was the case that when this particular ICE attorney came out and saw the young woman crying inconsolably, he told her not to despair or give up, to appeal and keep on fighting.
|Rosa Zárate, Decapitated Flower |
by Oswaldo Guayasamin © 1987
I suppose many judges act in this same manner, but is this really fair? I did see a new judge once — oddly enough (or maybe not so!), not from Texas, but thankfully newly assigned to the Dallas Immigration Court — who did not make an immediate ruling but took the case home with him, reread it and looked at all evidence again before making a careful decision, and who asked questions to help the respondent, despite her having a pro bono attorney (I think because he knew her attorney did not normally deal with immigration).
All this particular judge needed now was to get answers from the respondent to help him lend force to the decision he had pre-made, so he picked and chose what he wanted from the young mother's testimony, and he ignored the rest of the evidence. Therefore, he tried to trip up the scared young woman in details such as her myriad cell phone numbers (she switched phones everytime these assailants threatened her, so she had been through several phones), the dates she stated on her asylum application (which were off due to volunteer error, much like his own court interpreter error, but because the interpreter error now favored the respondent, he did not mention it in his ruling). Further, he asked the respondent irrelevant questions, which were off-base and immoral, I thought, such as why did she bring a child into the world in 2010 when she knew it was dangerous? The child, now 6, was listening to every word his mother said.
This young mother understood the Mexican police for how they "are ruled" in Mexico’s streets or how these same police are complicit through their silence: "report a crime, I will be killed by the cartels, and the police will do nothing to protect me, so I should not report any crime, lest I call attention to myself."
But this judge told her that police here in the US similarly tell citizens not to go near kidnappers. What he was comparing, however, was apples to oranges.
When police in the US tell citizens not to “look for kidnappers or criminals,” it is because they are telling people they will do the job themselves and will find these criminals.
In Mexico, that is not the case.
When Mexican police tell people not to go near the cases, it is because they do not want to deal with the consequences of another murder to tidy up…
|Meeting at the Pentagon, by Oswaldo Guayasamin © 1970|
As a Pro Se asylum respondent, this young woman, all of 25 if a day, fought admirably for her freedom. When she pointed out an article she had delivered as evidence, which showed the corruption of the Mexican police and the lack of protection from them — since she is no lawyer, and the interpreter was not at her best that day — the judge completely ignored this section of her testimony. Though the distraught mother mentioned this article several times, in addition to her own story, the judge chose to disregard it. He also made it a point to say that her translations were “uncertified” and unknown, although she used standard procedure for all her translation documents, as required by the courts. Never before has the court system needed to officially notarize a translation of a document, or require it to be done by a certified interpreter/translator.
Moreover, this young woman had the wherewithal to bring in her sister to testify. Although she had no lawyer to guide her, she followed correct protocol again. It was a short testimonial, but the sister corroborated what had happened, although she had sat outside the entire time while the young mother was giving her evidence. It is important to note how — with the sister's testimony — the judge already had his ready made case and was fitting his decision to it, shaping what he wanted to use. When he made his ruling, not only did he ignore crucial testimony and evidence, but he completely twisted the sister’s testimony to fit his own agenda, and put words into her mouth, as what she said and what he interpreted were two different realities.
|El grito no. 3|
by Oswaldo Guayasamin © 1983
But here I was sitting, making observations. And I have done this same thing before.
The judge did not like the fact that I was "judging" his reign.
Still, this did not stop his reign of terror in the courts.
Though narco traffickers intimidate these foreign governments and the general population, and we might sympathize with the respondents, the judge began, this does not establish a nexus for most people seeking asylum. He continued: a generic fear of violence is not approval for sanctuary. The cartels, maras, or gangs are private actors, not part of a government that tortures people, even if they terrify. The police might even be victims themselves, but this does not equal their being complicit with the corruption in these cartels. Thus most refugees are victims of individuals, not the government, and therefore they cannot establish grounds for asylum.
I told her she had 30 days by law before deportation proceedings could begin.
This is a beautiful young mother who has done no wrong. She escaped her country because the cartels wanted to kill her after she saw them murder yet another innocent, and they would have killed her too after torturing her, had she not escaped, like so many others and others and others...
|The Accident, by Oswaldo Guayasamin © 1941|
Instead of finding understanding and help here in "our land of the free and the brave," instead of finding sanctuary to welcome her, she finds bars and shackles to constrain her. And yes, she also finds that our government wants to send her back to a death trap.
Oh yes, we live in the land of opportunity, the land where we all came to live, once upon a time, as immigrants...
ABOUT THE ARTIST
|La capilla del hombre (The Chapel of Man)|
I thought Guayasamin was the perfect visual representative of refugees today: the downtrodden who come asking for help at our Southern border, yet we turn them away.
There is another way...