Update: November 20, 2013: my client was released on her own recognizance by ICE and is on her way home.
My partner, Bryan Johnson, recently blogged about our client, a 21-year old victim of severe domestic violence who fled her native country of El Salvador to seek asylum in the United States.
This young woman was subjected to emotional and physical abuse by her ex-boyfriend, which finally culminated in his attempt to kill her unborn child by punching her repeatedly in the stomach while pregnant. Her ex-boyfriend’s attacks are documented, as she went to the police the following day, but the authorities of El Salvador were not willing to protect her.
She has been detained since July 23, 2013, almost four months, contrary to ICE’s own policy relating to victims of domestic violence and other crimes, and treated like a criminal for attempting to save her own life. As a result, this traumatized young woman’s terror was ongoing, as she wondered whether, at any given moment, she would be returned to the country where the abuser is waiting to carry out his threats to kill her.
Initially, ICE set a “no bond” determination in her case, then lowered the bond to $7,500 after documentation of her traumatic experiences was provided. Due to the family’s inability to afford the costs of a bond, or a private attorney in Texas, I appeared pro bono in an attempt to get the bond lowered.
Judge Powell of the Port Isabel Immigration Court actually increased the bond to $8,000, stating that my client’s economic situation is not a consideration and expressing doubts that a domestic violence can qualify for asylum, despite precedential cases (Matter of R-A, Matter of L-R-). Additionally, Judge Powell–without any basis–indirectly threatened me with a bar complaint simply for not being able to travel from New York to Texas on a pro bono case.
On November 4, 2013, I made a formal request with the Field Office of San Antonio to release my client pursuant to its own prosecutorial guidelines. Meanwhile, the final court date of November 18, 2013, was looming; a court hearing I could not adequately prepare from New York, especially since the detention center had stopped allowing conference calls between clients and attorneys.
That same day, just minutes before the case was called, an ICE official indicated that he is disposed toward releasing my client on her own recognizance. The case proceeded and my client said she is afraid for my life and pleaded for a bond; the Judge denied it, but agreed to continue the case given ICE’s indications that they would release my client.
Today, November 19, 2013, ICE officially gave word that my client will be imminently released. While we cannot take away the fear and pain that our client experienced while detained by ICE, awaiting her fate day by day, and which other victims of domestic violence no doubt similarly face, we just may have saved a life. Welcome home!