Blanca Medina came to the United States to escape sexual abuse after suffering five rapes in her homeland of El Salvador, according to her lawyer Matthew Muller. But even after Medina told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that she and her four-year-old daughter Alejandra would face severe harm if deported, the agency has continued with deportation proceedings, Muller says.
Medina's forced removal is scheduled just weeks after the Obama administration vowed Friday to halt deportations and begin granting work permits to some young undocumented immigrants, as part of a policy shift which prioritizes criminal immigrants over non-criminals.
But in the eyes of ICE, Medina is high-priority.
"In June 2006, when Ms. Medina failed to appear for her scheduled immigration hearing in Harlingen, Texas, she was ordered deported in absentia," ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. Kice also wrote that in 2011, five years after her missed immigration hearing, Medina was arrested by ICE's Fugitive Operations team. A subsequent request from Medina's lawyer to reopen her request for asylum was denied, Kice confirmed.
"ICE is focused on smart and effective immigration enforcement which prioritizes the removal of convicted criminal aliens, recent border crossers, illegal re-entrants and immigration fugitives, such as Ms. Medina, who have failed to comply with final orders of removal issued by the nation's immigration courts," Kice wrote.
Muller says his client didn't show up for her court date because of psychological trauma caused by the multiple rapes, which he believes to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Muller, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and a Harvard Law graduate, says he's represented hundreds of undocumented immigrants, but that in this case, he ran out of options to help his client and hoped public outrage would help the agency change its decision. Out of desperation, he started an online petition at Change.Org and a website called Alejandra's Wish.
Conflicting laws have put Medina's case in a legal tangle: U.S. law says that foreigners will not be deported back to countries where they face persecution or torture. However, because Medina failed to file a motion to open her case within 180 days after her missed court date, she "has no means of having her case heard under current law," according to Muller in his petition.
"She's entirely at the mercy of the immigration agency right now," he wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
From Muller's Change.org petition:
ICE used a strange procedural rule to assert that it simply did not have to listen. Under ICE rules, it is free to ignore even conclusive proof that a person would suffer slow death by torture if deported. This "willful blindness" policy could be ended through simple procedural changes by the Department of Homeland Security.
The loophole, Muller says, means the mother must return to a country that she is terrified of, and with her young daughter.
"Blanca fears for her life -- and Alejandra's -- if they have to go to El Salvador. None of the men who raped her have been arrested, including her stalker, and she's terrified of what they'll do if she's sent back to El Salvador. But ICE is choosing to ignore this and other evidence," a Wednesday Change.org email read. The petition, as of publishing, has nearly 115,000 signatures.
"Should the penalty for failing to appear at an immigration proceedings potentially be persecution or torture?" Muller asked. "It should not. Even when someone had no good reason for missing court, the punishment should fit the crime."
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
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