She Was Stalked And Attacked In Guatemala And Could Be Sent Back. This Is The Story Of One Local Asylum Seeker
It's difficult for 28-year-old Magdalena Ramirez Brito to talk about what drove her and her children to leave their village in Guatemala and seek asylum in the United States.
"I could not tolerate what they did to me there," the young mother of three told KPCC/LAist this week, tearing up as she spoke.
Sitting in an Orange County legal services office as her two youngest boys played nearby, Ramirez described how, after her husband left for the U.S., a family acquaintance began stalking her. One night, she awoke to find the man in her home, where she lived with her children.
"He entered the house around 11 at night," Ramirez said. "He broke the door to enter."
She knew the man as William. He had a machete with him and threatened to rape her, she said.
"He grabbed me by the hair and he threw me to the floor," Ramirez said.
She said she was beaten badly as they struggled and she was knocked unconscious, Ramirez said.
When she came to, the man was gone. She found her children with neighbors, who had called for help. She said her parents eventually arrived and called for an ambulance.
The attack landed her in the hospital, she said. She pressed charges, and the matter went to court. But William didn't show up, she said, and her complaint was dropped.
The stalking continued. About three months later, she said her daughter, now 11, was assaulted as Ramirez worked in a nearby coffee field. She believes the accused assailant was the same man.
"It hurts what they did to my little girl," she said, referring to the alleged attacker. "It wasn't her fault."
Ramirez said she appealed to her village mayor for help. His advice was to leave town.
She said coming to the U.S. had not been her plan. Her husband sent money home, and with it, they had bought property and built a house. He was eventually to return. But the attacks changed that, she said.
In October, Ramirez made it with her children to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and crossed the border illegally on foot. When a border officer found them, Ramirez asked for help, she said. She told officers she was afraid to be in her country.
The family was detained, with her daughter held separately for a few days - in a metal enclosure Ramirez could just barely see.
"I was so afraid," she said. "I felt like they weren't going to give her back to me."
But after three days, they were reunited. They were moved and held at a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, according to the Garden Grove office of World Relief, a refugee and immigration assistance organization that is helping Ramirez with her legal case.
After about a month in detention, she and her children were released to pursue their asylum claims in court. But their hardship isn't over.
REDUCING THE FLOW OF ASYLUM SEEKERS
Obtaining approval for asylum has just become more difficult. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions set a much higher bar for asylum seekers claiming what's referred to as "private violence" - like domestic abuse, gang violence or attack by a private person. Among other requirements, victims must now prove their government could not or would not help them.
In a June 11 opinion on an asylum case involving domestic violence, Sessions overruled the recommendation for approval. "The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims," he wrote.
Sessions argued that the simple fact a country has trouble policing certain crimes - or that some people are more likely to be crime victims - is not enough to justify an asylum claim.
In a Department of Justice memo last week, officials at the border were advised to reject these types of asylum requests.
"Functionally, what we are going to see are across the board denials of asylum based on gang-related claims ... or a mother who has suffered terrible life-threatening domestic violence by her husband and is fleeing," said Greg Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "You are going to see those categorically denied."
Ramirez is lucky in that she's made it this far. She's already in the country, living in Costa Mesa with her family, and is awaiting a court date. But how immigration judges will interpret Session's ruling is a question mark.
"These asylum seekers are going to have a much harder time demonstrating to the judge that they qualify, because the judges will be following those instructions given by Attorney General Sessions," Chen said.
Ramirez wants badly to win her case, but she worries. She's afraid she may be ordered back to Guatemala.
"I can't go back," she said. "I'll only return to suffer again. I can't do it anymore."
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