“Women on the Run” May Face More Struggles Due to Court Backlog
This blog is cross posted from The Huffington Post:
Last week the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released the report “Women on the Run,” documenting 160 cases of women fleeing rape, assault, extortion and threats from street gangs in Central America and Mexico. Women recount ghastly gang rapes, prolonged torturous domestic violence and the murder of family members.
As documented in the report, their suffering does not end when they flee to the United States. The journey north is long and dangerous, with many facing more sexual violence along the way. Once they reach the United States, they often face detention and years of delays before obtaining full protection as a refugee.
Human Rights First has represented many women with such harrowing stories of persecution. We walk alongside them in their struggle to cope with the past and overcome the challenges of the United States asylum system.
One such challenge is the immigration system backlog. The backlog leaves many women in a state of legal limbo for years, separated from children and loved ones and unable to move forward with their lives. On average, they will wait three years for their case to be resolved.
One of our clients, we will call her Diana, fled Honduras in 2012 after suffering years of domestic abuse. The abuser would beat her multiple times each month in front of her young daughter. After Diana became pregnant with his child he beat her until she miscarried. He had connections with the local police, meaning Diana had no recourse against the abuse.
When she reached the United States, Diana was held in immigration detention for three months. Three years later, her case is still pending, leaving Diana in desperation as she waits to be reunited with her daughter. “I think she does not love me anymore,” Diana says. “She cries a lot and I tell her that I will bring her but I thought I would be able to bring her faster.”
Diana was scheduled for a hearing in July, only to be informed by the court a few days before that it had been postponed until 2017. “I have fought a lot to be here but now I feel like I cannot do it anymore,” she says, “but I just have to wait.”
Diana’s family remains in danger. Her abuser recently attempted to kidnap her daughter to hold her hostage until Diana returned to the country. Diana’s brother was able to fight him off, but was injured. Her family fled within Honduras to avoid the threat of violence and struggles to keep Diana’s daughter safe.
“I never planned to come to the United States this way, now I am stuck in limbo,” says Diana. “I cannot advance with my life because all I can do is wait for this.” Yet she hangs on to hope for a better life ahead. “This is a country of opportunities and my daughter is still young, she can still achieve a lot.”
While some women fleeing Central American violence may have their cases prioritized due to the timing of their arrival or because they brought their children, many others, like Diana, will fall into the backlog. The backlog hurts not only individuals like Diana, but also the integrity of the entire system. Earlier this year, Former ICE Assistant Secretary under George W. Bush, Julie Myers Wood, wrote: “People who have no legitimate claim for relief languish in the system and in the country at taxpayer expense. At the same time, people with strong claims including those fleeing persecution now often wait years for their day in court.”
The backlog inflicts pain on women and families who have already suffered greatly.
Congress should fix it by fully funding the immigration courts and adding 55 more judges in the next fiscal year, along with 75 judges in each of the next three fiscal years to fully tackle the backlog.