The fallout of the Trump administration’s announcement that it would undo the asylum protections granted to gang and domestic violence victims will be measure in two ways, immigrant lawyers warn: lengthier court processes and abject human suffering.
Passed down by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the directive sets a far more difficult legal standard for those adjudicating cases on behalf of asylum seekers. Sessions has argued that the United States can not be the protector of the world’s afflicted, that asylum seekers should have to show that their own governments were unable or unwilling to meet that task and that an inability to police the persecutors should not count as the government being unable or unwilling to control them.
But immigration lawyers like Kelly Hewitt, from the Hoppock Law Firm, note that the losers in his new paradigm will only be society’s most vulnerable.
They include people like a middle-aged Honduran woman who Hewitt represented in an asylum case in 2016.
The woman, whose name is being redacted, married a man more than 20 years her senior out of hope that he’d protect her from a stalker. During their marriage, he repeatedly raped her. As she was giving birth to one of their children “he left her for dead,” according to trial documents. “The neighbors carried her like in a hammock with a pole over their shoulders for two hours through the mountains. Then he raped her when she got back from the birth."
The woman was granted asylum in 2017 though Hewitt says she remains “very traumatized” especially knowing that some of the daughters she left behind in Honduras are suffering similar fates. Were she to have applied for asylum now, in the aftermath of Sessions’ new policy, she likely would have been denied it, Hewitt said. “If she would have been deported I think she would potentially be dead.”
Below is this woman’s story as told through the declaration she gave in court.
My name is XXXXX. I was born in XXXXX in XXXXX, Honduras. I grew up poor and never went to school.
I met my husband XXXXX in Colon, Honduras. I moved to Colon to be with my boyfriend, XXXXX. He was XXXXX’s cousin and we all the same house in Colon. My boyfriend drowned right after I moved to Colon. Another man in the town began to stalk me and threaten me. XXXXX had been trying to get me to date him for a while. Finally, to protect myself from the other man, I gave in to XXXXX’s proposals and married him. He was more than twenty years older than me but I thought it might still work. I thought he was good.
The problems started almost immediately. I was not permitted to work. He did not give me money. I started making lard and soap from palm trees to have spending money. When he found the money I earned, he would steal it from me. He started to drink too much.
He started raping me during our first year married. He told me he wanted to see me pregnant. When I got pregnant, he started beating me. Only eight days after our first child was born he raped me again. One week later he brutally beat me and raped me again. He beat me so badly and raped me so terribly, I thought I would die.
As time went on XXXXX became more brutal. He not only hit me with his hands and fists; he began beating me with the flat side of his machete. He would sharpen the machete before beating me and would cut me as he beat me. He would whip me all over my body, including on my face. He would hold the sharp edge of the machete to my throat and threaten to kill me and our children.
XXXXX constantly sexually abused me. I began pretending that I never bathed. I would only bathe when he was not home and I would try to look dirty. He would get upset if I was unclean and he raped me less when he thought I was dirty. Still, I had eleven children, all of them were products of rape. I was pregnant other times, but I lost those babies. I think it was because of the beatings and rapes while I was pregnant.
After he beat me or raped me, XXXXX always told me how sorry he was. He would rub my bruises, call me pet names, and promise it would never happen again. He still beat me basically every week though.
The first time I tried to escape was a little after my second baby was born. XXXXX came to get our children and took them from me. He threatened me and wouldn’t let me see them. I ended up going back to him because he wouldn’t leave me alone and he wouldn’t let me see the children. He kept beating and raping me. He began threatening me that if I left him again, he would find me anywhere. Sometimes I would leave for a night or two. He would always find me, become violent and aggressive wherever I was staying, and eventually drag me back to our house.
After our fourth child was born, I managed to escape for three months. Again, he took the children from me. I thought maybe I could live without them just to be away from the abuse. I found out he was neglecting them, so I went back to get them. Later, he broke into the house where I was staying. He told me he would send an infamous narcotrafficker, XXXXX, to kill me if I did not come back to him. XXXXX is my husband’s friend. He was infamous for killing people in their town with impunity, so I was very scared. I went back home.
XXXXX always told me that if I ever called the police or tried to leave again, he would kill me. He said that no one would do anything, that no one would come for me. He said that killing me was as easy as killing a hen. I knew several women who were killed by their husbands. Their husbands went into hiding for a short period of time and then continued to live their normal lives back in our town. They had murdered their wives and gotten away with it. I was sure that XXXXX could too.
I didn’t have a car or a phone. My town is so rural that we don’t even have cell service. People have to walk over an hour up a mountain and use a special antenna to get service. The closest police station is an entire day’s walk away. If a woman calls the police about domestic violence, they say they won’t get involved because it is a “family matter.”
One night I refused to have sex with XXXXX so he went to get drunk. I was at home with two of my daughters, my granddaughter, my youngest son, and my other son. XXXXX called the infamous narcotrafficker XXXXX to come over to make a deal with him. XXXXX was broke and wanted more alcohol. When the narcotrafficker arrived, XXXXX asked him for money to buy more alcohol. They began negotiating. XXXXX offered to sell the narcotrafficker two of our unmarried daughters. I heard the entire conversation. I panicked. I called my son XXXXX into the room and explained what was happening. We all had to get out of the house. I went out the window with (the children). XXXXX left through the front door and met us in the street. We went up into the hills and spent the night outside.
The next day, XXXXX took (a male child) back to my husband and (a female child) back to my son XXXXX. Then, he walked with (my daughters) to another town. I hid in the hills for several days and nights. I started to go back home during the day but I spent the night in the hills because I was afraid of what might happen to me at night.
During the day XXXXX beat me, held a machete to my throat, pulled my hair, and tried to rape me. After about a week, I started going to neighbor’s houses at night. Finally I found a way out of the city. I snuck away to another city. While I was there my husband and the narcotrafficker tried to find me. That’s why (my daughters) got so scared they got married to try to be safe. Because women are viewed as property, once they were married, they were property of another man and my husband could not sell them anymore.
The narcotrafficker also asked about my other two young daughters. They were both studying in other cities. XXXXX was scared, so she came to the same city where I was hiding. She got word that the narcotrafficker was asking about her. From there, (two minor daughters) and I fled to the United States. My husband was looking everywhere for me and there was nowhere to hide my daughters. They had no one to marry and didn’t want to get married, so we fled.
I swear under penalty of perjury that this testimony is the truth and that it is a declaration I gave in Spanish to my attorney which was translated and read back to me.