Immigrant Justice Program Staff Attorney Rachel Van Tyle regularly encounters harrowing cases, especially when it comes to Asylum claims. She tells the story of a teenager named Mario* from El Salvador, who witnessed the murder of a friend and who then fled to the United States to avoid the same fate. For some time, Mario and his friend were harassed by a local Narco group led by the town’s own Mayor. “[The Mayor] tries to recruit all the boys to be murderers and vigilantes for him,” says Rachel. But Mario and his friend both resisted. This refusal came at a high price, and when Mario was only 16, the Narcos killed his friend in front of him. Mario barely escaped with his life.
He dropped out of school and immediately went into hiding. “His parents recognized that his life was in danger and sent him to the U.S.,” says Rachel. It took them several months to gather the money for Mario’s journey, and in that time, the Narco group murdered and dismembered his uncle.
When Mario reached the U.S./Mexico border, he presented himself to an agent, explaining that he could not return to his country out of fear for his life. The border agents detained him. “He had a Credible Fear Interview at the detention center,” says Rachel. They determined there was a reasonable possibility that his need for asylum could be proved. So Mario was released into the United States to find an attorney.
He came to Indianapolis to stay with his aunt and uncle, who received immigration assistance from the Legal Clinic years earlier. They brought him to an intake and Rachel agreed to represent him. “I try not to take cases I don’t think I can win,” she says. “He has a lot of proof of his persecution.”
Despite her belief in his case, they suffered a recent disappointment. With Asylum claims, there is an opportunity to be approved through an interview at the Officer level without being referred to the Immigration Courts, but Mario was not approved. Rachel says, “The officer that we had denies every single minor case I’ve ever had. When I saw it was her, I was like, ‘Well, this isn’t going to go well.’” She calls this Asylum Officer Roulette. If he had been approved at the Officer level, Mario could have applied for his green card next year.
At this point, however, no court date is set. Even after an initial court date, Mario’s case might not be adjudicated until 2021 or later. Rachel explains that while President Obama prioritized recent entries, President Trump is focusing on those with criminal histories. “So all these kids that recently arrived in the United States are getting put to the back of the list,” Rachel says. “It’s just the way the judges are being ordered to schedule the cases.”
In the meantime, Mario applied for and received his work permit and is now taking ESL classes so he can complete his high school degree. “He’s a good kid and he’s really trying,” says Rachel. “He is who we want in this country and so I think we have to fight for that.”
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*Name has been changed