Every year, over 100,000 women, children and refugees cross the U.S. Southwest border fleeing persecution in their home country. Fiscal year 2017 saw over 30,000 unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Most come seeking refugee from El Salvador and Honduras’ notorious MS-13 and 18th street gang. The gangs routinely target boys from age 8-16, forcibly recruiting them into the gang through beatings, extortion, threats to their life and family. Gang extortion fees are a way of life. In 2016, the murder rate from gangs surpassed the death toll in Iraq, making El Salvador one of the most deadliest countries in the world. Nonetheless, those seeking refugee here in the U.S. still struggle to make their cases in front of the immigration judge. Before seeing a judge, those asylum seekers arriving at the border must first pass what is know as a credible fear interview. These interviews usually take place within 48 hours of someone’s treacherous arrival across the border, and often after spending a few days in detention, in “hieleras” or ice boxes. U.S. policy is to automatically detain people seeking asylum at the border.
Other countries like Germany do not detain people in this way. In the past few years, the law governing the credible fear interview, has become increasingly restrictive, thereby heightening the need for counsel. Although immigrants have a right to counsel, if it does not unreasonably delay the interview, a representative is not free. Volunteer representatives are now being deploy to the border to provide support for those undergoing the interview.
One example of a young man who was provided volunteer representation was Ignacio*, Ignacio regularly campaigned for leaders who sought to address MS-13 violence. He would organize rallies and hand out campaign paraphernalia, along with his grandfather. One evening, after returning home from a successful rally, several MS-13 members chased him down the street and shot him. They told him to cease his activities or next time it would be his family. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee projects support asylum seekers and activities related to these issues, please contribute to Guest at Your Table.