Quoted in Literary Hub article by Laura Tillman on 18 July 2018

Tillman, Laura. 2018. Inside the Slow-Motion Disaster on the Southern Border: Testimony from the Rio Grande Valley. Literary Hub 18 July. <https://lithub.com/inside-the-slow-motion-disaster-on-the-southern-border/&gt;.

Elizabeth Kennedy, a researcher based in Tegucigalpa, has been tracking cases of asylum seekers rejected in the U.S. who returned to their countries in the Northern Triangle and were then murdered. Amid the confusion over the last month about family separations, and debates about who “deserves” asylum and who does not, Kennedy is placing in relief the stark fact of how these stories can and do end. Migrants make a long and treacherous journey and arrive at the U.S. border, either on bridges or by crossing illegally. Many of those from Central America ask for asylum, a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in domestic law. Some warn they fear certain death and then, upon returning to the countries and people they have learned to fear, that certainty is proven out.

“We’re told that in the Northern Triangle there’s such generalized violence that you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a bullet is shot and just happens to hit you. But that’s not the situation. You’re in this place, your killer is in the same place, and they shoot a bullet that is meant for you,” Kennedy said.

To qualify for asylum, migrants must show they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The slight malleability of the term “particular social group” has left a tiny opening for immigration attorneys to argue on their clients’ behalf when they seek refuge from gangs or abusive partners and authorities in their own countries are unable or unwilling to protect them. The vast majority of these cases have been rejected by immigration judges. Then, last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an immigration court’s ruling in an especially heinous case of domestic violence, in which a Salvadoran woman had been brutally abused and repeatedly raped by her husband, and said that most domestic and gang violence cases will no longer qualify asylum seekers for refuge in the U.S. The reversal virtually guarantees that Kennedy’s death count will continue its uptick.

When I called Senda de la Vida, the shelter where Brian had spent several months, Pastor Hector Silva immediately knew who I was talking about. “We know he went back to Honduras, but we never heard anything from him after that.” He’d never returned. Whether that was good news—that Brian had found some respite in Honduras or elsewhere, or whether it was a sign of something graver—Silva couldn’t say. Kennedy searched her database and turned up no articles with his name, but sent along a handful of news stories detailing unnamed young men who had been gunned down after returning to Honduras from their attempts to make a life in the U.S.

At a Brownsville bar along the expressway, a customs officer told me that asylum was a “beautiful thing,” that should not be awarded to migrants from Central America simply in search of a better life. When I got home, I called Elizabeth Kennedy in Tegucigalpa, to learn more about what happens when asylum claims are rejected. Some of these names are withheld, either for the comfort and security of migrants, or for government employees unauthorized to speak with the media.

Elizabeth Kennedy: The answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask.

Elizabeth Kennedy: I do ultimately see it as a sign of hope that so many people have been angered by separating families, that they’re shocked and hurt and don’t know what to do and want to do something. I have to find hope in that. It’s frustrating the short attention span of almost everyone. I’m realistic that those upset now, in not too much time, are going to be upset about something else and more or less forget.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s