RWU professor testifies for asylum-seeking migrants in the United States

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BRISTOL – Televised daily, the footage of migrants converging on the US border to be turned away or deported is heartbreaking for Autumn Quezada-Grant, professor of Latin American history at Roger Williams University.

“It makes me sad that they are rejecting people instead of letting the law do its job,” she said this week.

Since 2017, Quezada-Grant has used her expertise in the treatment of women, LGBTQ populations and Indigenous peoples and their intersection with gangs, drug cartels and organized crime in Latin America to help write reports on ” country conditions ”. She uses the information they provide and her knowledge of how life unfolds on the ground to help put together cases for people seeking asylum in the United States for fear of facing persecution, violence and maybe even death if they return. His knowledge is based on 20 years of research in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

“There really is a complete dysfunction in the governments from which they come. No one wants to leave their home. No one wants to leave their family. We need dire conditions, ”she said.

Autumn Quezada-Grant, professor of Latin American history at Roger Williams University, has written some 40 country situation reports as testimony in immigration courts.  They take time and have an emotional impact, she says.  “You feel like you hold the lives of these people in your hands.  I do it because I believe in social justice."

Quezada-Grant has produced 150 reports contextualizing for immigration judges across the country what is happening on the streets, what individual asylum seekers have endured and why they seek protection in the United States.

To receive asylum, the applicant must prove that there is a threat to his life in his country of origin.

Thousands of people seek protection each year because they claim to have suffered persecution or fear future persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or status in a particular social group. To prove their case, one needs the testimony of asylum seekers, their friends, relatives and other sources familiar with the situation in their country of origin. This is where Quezada-Grant comes in.

Flee “for their life”

Take the case of a native of Mexico who is a transgender woman, who has lived in the United States since 2007 and who is now facing deportation.

In a report released this month in support of her claim for asylum and relief under the United Nations Convention against Torture, Quezada-Grant detailed the woman’s past and future if she returned. in Mexico.

From the age of 7, she was taunted as a “maricón”, an anti-gay insult, for portraying herself as a sissy boy. She was the victim of violence and assault from her family. The woman, whose name is withheld to protect her identity, later suffered domestic violence from a partner.

According to Quezada-Grant’s report, the woman decided to come to America, where she could be freer to be herself. She identifies as “100% female”.

The report then documents the climate of gang shootings in Mexico and the escalating murder rate as well as targeted violence against transgender women. She says many incidents are not properly investigated, if at all.

In recommending that the woman stay in the United States, Quezada-Grant wrote: “What we see with transgender people is that they are rejected by daytime society and are pushed into a dangerous world, maybe. prostitution or cartel prey. members. I have worked on cases where transgender women have been forced by members of cartels into prostitution and sex trafficking.

“There are no real protections for [the woman] in Mexico today. In conclusion, based on my expertise and experience, [she] is more than likely to experience rejection from society, rejection of participation in daily life… she is at increased risk of being a victim of sexual violence and hate crimes. The government of Mexico is unable to adequately protect her. In fact, they can even act against it.

“What they flee for is their life,” Quezada-Grant said in an interview this week. “Often the police are linked to gangs. “

According to the Migration Policy Institute, nationals of three Central American countries – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – made up more than 16% of the 46,500 people who were granted asylum in the United States in 2019.

Quezada-Grant said the three most dangerous things in Latin America are an environmentalist, a journalist and a woman.

“Femicide rates are so high that they are among the highest in the world,” she said. It’s a culture, she said, fueled by machismo that views women as property.

“There are few laws in these countries that protect women. “

Quezada-Grant credited President Biden’s administration with re-establishing a policy, struck under the previous administration, that allows women to seek asylum based on domestic violence claims.

She attributed the growing number of unaccompanied children at the border to laws prohibiting their deportation, although Biden exercised a Trump-era public health order promulgated at the start of the pandemic that allows authorities to quickly deport them. migrants without giving them the chance to seek asylum. This policy has recently been seen in action with an influx of Haitians to the border. Over a thousand have been returned to Haiti.

Migrants cross the Rio Grande River to Del Rio, Texas from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, early Thursday.

“Parents are ready to sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of their children,” she said.

“You have the impression that you hold the lives of these people in your hands”

Quezada-Grant is one of several hundred faculty nationwide who write reports on conditions across the country, an effort that takes time and has an emotional impact.

“You feel like you hold the lives of these people in your hands. … I do it because I believe in social justice, ”she said.

She testified about 40 times and was seized with anxiety and panic attacks each time. Government lawyers are working to dig holes in his account.

“It’s scary because you don’t want to mess it up. You don’t want to be treated as biased, ”she said.

Reports on country conditions can be essential in corroborating a client’s account, according to Joseph Molina Flynn, an immigration attorney who is a judge in Central Falls City Court.

“Each asylum application should be reported on the conditions in the country before trial,” said Molina Flynn.

Like Quezada-Grant, Molina Flynn admits to having suffered secondary trauma as a result of the persecution and terror suffered by individuals.

“I often find myself crying and not being able to sleep because you carry the lives of these people in your hands,” he said.

A migrant family stands on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande River, where another migrant brushes their teeth, after crossing the border into Del Rio, Texas from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, early Thursday.


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