In June, 2009, Laura S., an undocumented domestic abuse survivor and mother of three, was stopped for a driving infraction in Texas; she pleaded with immigration officials to let her stay in the U.S. because of a violent ex-partner, but they forced her to return to Mexico. Five days later her body was found in a burning vehicle.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have blood on their hands.
This month Laura’s family filed a lawsuit against the four unknown border agents who allegedly “violated her procedural due process rights and failed and refused to consider her clear eligibility for relief from removal.”
What Happened That Night?
After a Texas police officer stopped Laura, a relative, and friends around midnight for a reported driving infraction, he demanded to see their immigration papers. As a young mother of three children, she was terrified, and explained that her former boyfriend had attacked her and threatened to kill her. The situation was so bad that she had protective orders in Texas against him. Now that he was back in Mexico, she knew he would find her again and harm her. She couldn’t go back.
The police officer paid no attention. Instead, he turned Laura and two of the passengers over to a federal agent, who drove them to a U.S. processing center.
Desperate, Laura repeated her story – that she feared for her life, and that one of her children was scheduled for surgery. But the U.S. government vehicle continued making its way to an immigration office, ignoring Laura’s pleas. Three other U.S. agents joined their colleague to process Laura and two other people.
Shortly after her visit to the immigration office in the early morning hours, Laura boarded a U.S. Customs and Border Protection van and was driven to the Hidalgo International Bridge, where she was told to walk to Mexico.
“None of the defendants asked her any questions or attempted to verify or evaluate her risk of harm in any way,” her family’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit. “None of the defendants explained any of her legal rights to her.”
Government documents state that “voluntary departure” was used to return Laura to Mexico.
Voluntary departure is a contentious deportation scare tactic that ICE agents use to tell undocumented immigrants that they can either choose to face months imprisoned while waiting for their cases to be decided, or leave immediately for a chance to gain legal status once they are back in Mexico.
While the promise of legal status is technically true, there would be a ten-year ban for such immigrants who try to apply for the status. This has happened to enough immigrants that a class-action lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, which seeks to make border agents clarify the consequences of voluntary departure, including the ten-year return ban.
In fact, the procedure is so bad that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the procedure:
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. government Tuesday over the way Mexicans accused of living in the country illegally agree to be sent home, claiming the so-called voluntary departures are actually coerced.
The federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles alleges immigration authorities in Southern California routinely steer Mexican immigrants away from insisting on an appearance before an immigration judge. They are told they face months in jail while their cases are decided and are falsely informed that they can easily arrange legal status once they’re back in Mexico, the lawsuit alleges.
Laura was at risk of serious and imminent harm, which means she could have qualified to stay in the U.S., or been eligible for political asylum or a U-visa, a document often given to battered women and crime victims, permitting them to stay in the U.S.
But no, the police and immigration officials couldn’t wait.
As Equal Voice points out, couldn’t they have kept Laura until 9am and let her call an attorney?
If you agree that Laura S. was treated atrociously, please sign our petition, demanding that the four agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsible for her instant deportation be brought to justice.
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