DENVER (AP) — While her 5-year-old son slept in her arms, a woman from El Salvador spoke of fleeing the sexual harassment of violent gang members, as immigration judges in Denver began video proceedings Monday in asylum cases of mothers and children being held at a remote New Mexico deportation center.
The 27-year-old woman, who appeared over a video screen and spoke through a translator, promised a judge she would not flee if she were released to family in Los Angeles and vowed to seek U.S. citizenship.
Hers was among the first of scores of cases that have been moved from Arlington, Virginia, to judges in Denver. Officials say it makes more sense to hold the proceedings in the same time zone as the detention center in Artesia, New Mexico.
The change in venue came after immigration lawyers filed a lawsuit seeking to block deportations from Artesia, saying immigrants don't have proper access to lawyers and were being forced to clean restrooms and retell stories of violence and rape in front of children.
A surge of cases involving immigrants from Central America has backed up federal courts and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration judges Eileen Trujillo and Donn Livingston were scheduled to hear 36 cases Monday, most involving women from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Colorado Springs immigration attorney Stephanie Izaguirre, who has traveled to Artesia to represent immigrants, welcomed the change in courts. She said some of the children were getting sick and refused to eat the food in the detention center.
Most of the women are seeking asylum from abusive relatives and violent street gangs. Accompanied by an 11-year-old daughter, Izaguirre's client said she was fleeing a violent husband in El Salvador who was recently released from prison in a murder case.
Izaguirre testified that the woman's husband is looking for her now that he is free, so she fled to the U.S. with the help of smugglers. She did not get far before she was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Trujillo postponed a bond hearing for that woman. Later, she set a $5,000 bond for the woman and her 5-year-old son seeking to live with her parents in Los Angeles.
The judge's order came over the objections of Homeland Security attorney Nathan Herbert, who cited, among other concerns, national security risks posed by the recent influx of immigrants.
"I understand the general problem with people being allowed to enter the country unimpeded," Judge Livingston said before setting a $12,000 bond for yet another woman who said she was beaten and raped in El Salvador when she refused to date a gang member.
Livingston said the woman's U.S. connections, including family in Kansas City, Kansas, took precedence over U.S. security concerns.