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Inside the US Asylum System: A Report from Arizona

I've just returned from a fact-finding trip to Arizona, where we visited gender violence survivors at the Eloy detention center. They have come from countries across the region to seek asylum here in the US. But instead of sanctuary, many of them are trapped in long-term detention in a system stacked against them. Trump's latest executive order, announced while I was in Arizona, makes it even worse, upending asylum law to reject even more people seeking safety.  

What I saw demonstrates that the situation is already critical. I witnessed a woman from Mexico being directly examined in an asylum case before a judge in Tucson. He appeared notably bored as she described never-ending physical and sexual violence at the hands of her abuser who was part of a cartel. She testified that she was beaten over 200 times by her abuser, and eventually fled with her son. We later learned the judge not only denied her asylum claim, but also openly demonstrated his disdain for gender violence survivors. He asserted in open court that the case was not about her need for asylum and the danger she faced, but simply about a custody dispute. 

We also learned that the work of local groups like the Florence Project, Kino Border Initiative, Transcend, and Casa Mariposas is truly sustaining. They help keep detained asylum seekers from losing hope. Many of the detained folks we talked to said that they felt constantly pressured — by the isolation and sense of abandonment that comes from being detained in prison-like conditions — to just throw in the towel and give up their claim. They know that they would face extreme danger if deported, but the thought of spending an unknowable amount of time trapped behind those walls seems almost worse. Activists told us that the volunteer visitors and the legal and social services support from local organizations keep people from losing all hope. 

We're working with local partners like the Florence Project to spotlight these testimonies and these inhumane conditions. We're preparing a petition for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We'll keep up the pressure, through international law and through local advocacy, to push for these migrants' rights — and to let them know they're not alone. 

November 14, 2018