I had my daughter when I was 18 years old, and my son when I was 20.
The father of my children isolated me from society. He would not let me have friends, and he would not let me call my family. He said that people would put ideas in my head, and they would make me think in a different way from the correct way I was supposed to think. His way of thinking.
As the years passed, it became worse. He became more jealous, and he became more controlling.
Despite his treatment of me, I always felt that desire to work, and to continue to learn. I enrolled at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. But my partner always tried to keep me from studying. He said it wasn’t good for me — that education was worthless. He hid my books, and he took away my money to keep me from traveling to the university.
On one occasion, he became very jealous. He had heard a rumor that I had a relationship with someone he worked with. He pointed his gun at my head – he was always armed – and he told me that I was a prostitute, that this was going to be the last moment of my life. That moment was horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible for me.
This was not just one incident. This was how life was with him.
He told me, “If you call the police, you know that I will not be locked up.” He laughed at me.
My partner had a lot of influence in Honduras because he comes from a family that is involved with the police and the military. One time he got so jealous that he beat my face, leaving my eye purple and my nose bloody. And he told me, “If you call the police, you know that I will not be locked up. You know I will get out. But if you do that you will not survive.” He laughed at me. I felt frightened that I could not call the police. I told myself, I cannot continue in this situation.
I told my mom that I had to do something. I needed to leave. In that moment, I realized that I had to come to the U.S. So, I told him, “I am going to the United States, I am going to apply for asylum and then I can help you so that you come with me.” But that was not my plan. I only said that so he would not stop me from leaving, and so that I could bring the children.
When I arrived at the border, I arrived at Hidalgo. I told the truth. I said that I wanted protection because I was suffering from domestic violence in Honduras and that I could not be there anymore. I said that I did not feel safe and that I knew I would feel safe in the U.S. And now that I am here, I finally feel safe.
Now that I have been granted asylum, I feel like a door has opened for me. I have many plans. I have a future, and I have so many goals. My children are super happy in school. They are teenagers. My daughter is 16, and my son is 13, and they are so happy to be here. And I am too. I have work. I want to continue improving my English and continue my studies. I think it is never too late to study and learn.
Elbia* arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015 when she was only 23 years old. She came to the United States seeking refuge after enduring years of brutal abuse at the hands of her husband in Guatemala. Elbia had been beaten so badly by him that she had developed chronic numbness on one side of her body. Her hometown had no law enforcement to help her and there was no place in Guatemala she could find safety. So Elbia escaped, forced to leave her son behind, and made the difficult journey through the Mexican desert to the U.S. border.
When Elbia was interviewed by border patrol, she didn’t disclose the full scope of the abuse she had suffered in Guatemala. She was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and did not feel safe sharing her story with the border agent. Though Elbia had never committed a crime of any sort, the U.S. government inexplicably deemed her a flight risk. She was sent to a detention center in Eloy, Arizona and saddled with an exorbitant bond of $20,000.
Conditions in the Eloy detention center are notoriously poor, and the court there is particularly hostile to asylum seekers. Over 94 percent of asylum claims that come before the Eloy immigration court are denied. Elbia spent over a year locked up at Eloy, unable to leave and separated from her young son.
Elbia had one advantage, though: a legal team fighting for her. Asylum seekers with attorneys are five times more likely to win their cases than those without them. But people in deportation proceedings are not guaranteed the right to a lawyer, and it is exceptionally difficult to find legal representation from behind bars. As a result, 86 percent of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers imprisoned in detention centers are forced to navigate complex legal proceedings alone.
Elbia spent countless hours working with her legal team to prepare her case. Her lawyers also managed to secure extensive testimony from expert witnesses who were able to attest to the prevalence of domestic violence in Guatemala and the dearth of resources available to indigenous women like Elbia. After months of preparation and agonizing uncertainty, Elbia was finally granted asylum on the basis of domestic violence in the spring of 2017.
As an asylee, Elbia was able to petition for her son to join her in the United States. They have been reunited and are now living in safety with Elbia’s brother in Virginia. She and her son are finally building their new life together, free from fear and violence. Elbia has begun attending culinary school and aspires to be a chef someday.
For years, Lupita endured brutal physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband in El Salvador. Lupita’s husband treated her like she was his property and was incredibly controlling. On multiple occasions, she tried to leave him. But every time, her husband would relentlessly stalk and harass her, forcing her to return to him. In El Salvador, domestic violence is largely perpetrated with impunity, and resources for women like Lupita are scant.
While her husband always expected Lupita to be faithful to him, he openly cheated on her. As a result of his infidelity, he was infected with HIV, which he then transmitted to Lupita. Medical treatment for HIV positive people in El Salvador is substandard at best, and Lupita’s HIV progressed to become full-blown AIDS. At times she was seriously ill.
Lupita applied for asylum in hopes that she could begin her life anew in the United States, free from her husband’s abuse. She made the incredibly difficult decision to leave her daughters, granddaughters, and job behind, knowing that if she remained in El Salvador her life would be in danger. Fortunately, Lupita’s asylum application was granted, and she now lives in safety in San Francisco. Since being granted asylum, Lupita has been able to access good medical care and now lives a full life. An activist at heart, Lupita has immersed herself in several community groups dedicated to advancing the rights of trans women and people living with HIV.
Ms. A.B. was born in El Salvador in the 1970s. She lost her parents at a young age and was subsequently separated from her siblings and placed in the care of a family friend who physically and verbally abused her. When she was in her early 20s, Ms. A.B. met the man who would become her husband. After they married, his abuse began.
Over the 15 years that followed, Ms. A.B.’s husband subjected her to horrific physical, sexual, and emotional violence. He beat and raped Ms. A.B. so many times that she lost count. He also frequently threatened to kill her, often brandishing a loaded gun or a knife. Ms. A.B.’s husband was violent even during her pregnancies, on one occasion threatening to hang her with a rope from the roof of their house.
When they first met, Ms. A.B. was pursuing her education, but her husband forced her to cut her studies short. He constantly belittled and demeaned her verbally. Ms. A.B.’s husband also often falsely accused her of infidelity, going so far as ordering her to undress and show him her genitals so he could see if she had been with another man.
Ms. A.B.’s relationship with her husband was characterized by constant brutality and she often feared for her life. She repeatedly sought protection from the Salvadoran authorities, to no avail. While she was able to obtain two restraining orders against her husband, they went completely unenforced, and he continued to abuse and threaten her. After one particularly terrifying incident in which her husband attacked her with a large knife, Ms. A.B. went to the police and they refused to help, saying instead “if you have any dignity, you will get out of here.”
Ms. A.B. went to the police and they refused to help, saying instead “if you have any dignity, you will get out of here.”
Heeding their advice, she left her husband, moving to a town that was two hours away from where they lived together. But he managed to find her there and the abuse continued. Ms. A.B. then sought a divorce, which resulted in escalating threats on her life. A month after the divorce was finalized, her ex-husband, accompanied by his police officer brother, accosted her and told her that the divorce meant nothing and that her life was in danger. Following this incident, Ms. A.B.’s ex-husband and men with whom he associated continued to threaten her, describing in graphic detail how they intended to kill her.
One week before she left the country, her ex-husband tracked her down again and physically assaulted her. With nowhere to turn, Ms. A.B. fled El Salvador to seek protection in the United States.
Upon her arrival in the United States, Ms. A.B. was screened in and permitted to apply for asylum after an Asylum Officer found that she had a credible fear of persecution in El Salvador based on the violence she had suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. Ms. A.B.’s case was sent to the Charlotte Immigration Court, one of the courts most notoriously hostile to asylum seekers, to be heard by V. Stuart Couch, an immigration judge with a long history of denying asylum to domestic violence survivors – and having his decisions overturned on appeal. Unsurprisingly, Judge Couch denied Ms. A.B.’s asylum application.
Ms. A.B. appealed Judge Couch’s decision, and her case was then heard by the Board of Immigration Appeals, the appellate court with nationwide jurisdiction over immigration cases. The Board reversed Judge Couch’s denial, finding Ms. A.B. eligible for protection based on her experiences of domestic violence and sending her case back to the court in Charlotte for Ms. A.B. to be granted asylum.
In a departure from usual practice, Judge Couch refused to issue a new decision in the case. He instead attempted to send the case back to Board. Seven months later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took advantage of a rarely used power to refer the case to himself for a decision.
On June 11, 2018, Sessions issued a deeply disappointing decision in Ms. A.B.’s case, reversing the Board’s decision. In ruling against Ms. A.B., Sessions overturned an important precedent decision known as Matter of A-R-C-G-, which in 2014 affirmed the right of domestic violence survivors to seek asylum protection. In his decision Sessions made the troubling statement that asylum claims “pertaining to domestic violence” should “generally” no longer be approved.
“They don’t understand that we are fleeing for our lives.”
The Attorney General’s decision completely disregarded the extensive evidence – over 700 pages’ worth – that Ms. A.B. submitted to corroborate her asylum claim. Instead, Sessions insisted on calling into question Ms. A.B.’s honesty. Consistent with his previousattacks on asylum seekers, Sessions mischaracterized her as an economic migrant gaming the asylum system. His treatment of A.B. suggests that he never had any intention to consider her application for asylum fairly.
Sessions’ decision is not the last word in Ms. A.B.’s case. Her legal team is continuing to fight for her and is determined to win her the protection she deserves. But Ms. A.B. thought her odyssey for protection had ended when the Board ruled in her favor. Instead, the legal battle continues and she remains in limbo, uncertain what her future holds. Ms. A.B. also remains separated from her three children in El Salvador, because while her case is pending she cannot petition for them to join her in the United States.
Ms. A.B. is hurt and confused by the Attorney General’s ruling in her case and by his refusal to believe her story. After learning about his decision she said, “I think immigration judges have something against immigrants. They generalize about immigrants and think that they are coming to work. They don’t understand that we are fleeing for our lives.”