CHICAGO (Reuters) - A woman from El Salvador who says she was threatened by gangs that murdered her son petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday to halt her deportation to her home country from Missouri, where she is detained.
Lawyers for advocacy group the National Immigrant Justice Center are representing the woman and say she did not get a proper chance to tell U.S. immigration officials about her fears for her life if she is returned to El Salvador.
The lawyers said her deportation would violate international human rights law, arguing she was denied her right to seek asylum. They have asked the commission to take precautionary measures, directing the United States not to deport her and El Salvador not to issue travel documents to facilitate the deportation.
The woman is one of tens of thousands of people from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala who have fled to the United States in recent years, some seeking refuge from rampant gang violence, others seeking economic opportunity.
“The interview was woefully inadequate for eliciting the information necessary to assess whether she had a bona fide claim to asylum,” said Mark Fleming, a lawyer from the center who is handling her case.
The woman, who is 39 years old and came to the United States in November, said her family was targeted after her oldest son refused to join a gang. The older boy fled to the United States and her youngest son was murdered by gang members when he was 16.
“I can’t return to El Salvador, I’m scared that they will torture me or kill me, because that’s what they do after they threaten a person. They take you to a vacant lot and make you dig your own grave,” she told Reuters by telephone from the jail in Missouri where she is being held. She asked not to be named because she is scared of retaliation both from gangs and her former partner who she says abused her.
She said she had to close her small store in a hamlet outside of the coastal town of La Union because gang members constantly extorted her for products and cash, and tried to make her take food to gang members in jail.
Because of the violence in Central America, many immigrants from those countries are allowed to stay in the United States while they seek protection. But this woman did not get that opportunity because the immigration officer who interviewed her said she did not establish a credible threat. An immigration judge upheld that decision.
A spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said the department cannot comment on individual cases.
The woman said she was frightened and depressed at the time of the interview. She had no lawyer at that time and said she did not understand the process.
In all cases, the USCIS spokesman said, asylum seekers have the right to have a consultant present when they are interviewed regarding whether they have a credible fear of returning to their country, but the U.S. government will not pay for the consultant.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said it could not comment on the case until it has reached a resolution. The United States has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights so it is unclear what the commission can do in this case. El Salvador has ratified the convention.
Editing by Marguerita Choy and Matthew Lewis