MCALLEN, Texas — US immigration officials are trying to deport an unaccompanied 16-year-old girl to Honduras, where she fled threats of violence because she reported her father to authorities for sexually assaulting her when she was 13, attorneys say.
The threats came from the girl's paternal uncle, who served time in prison for murder, after her father was arrested and sent to prison, angering his family.
The girl, identified as "AMPV" in court filings, and her mother were among the more than 60,000 immigrants whom the Trump administration has forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases were completed under the Migrant Protection Protocols policy after they lost their asylum case on Jan. 10 with 30 days to appeal the judge's ruling.
About two weeks later, AMPV presented herself at an international bridge connecting Brownsville, Texas, and the Mexican city of Matamoros alone as an unaccompanied immigrant child.
Stephen Blake, an attorney representing AMPV, said the teenager should have been placed in new deportation proceedings as an unaccompanied minor. But attorneys for the US said she doesn’t have the right to new proceedings because she reentered as an unaccompanied child before the appeal window on her previous case was closed and she didn’t have a final deportation order, making her eligible to be deported.
"She came to the US as an unaccompanied minor due to an increasing amount of violence in the camp they were staying at," Blake told BuzzFeed News. "Now the government wants to remove her to Honduras despite her mother still being a refugee in Mexico and her having no legal parent or guardian in Honduras."
Her deportation is scheduled to take place at 8 a.m. Friday unless a judge rules in her favor and stops ICE.
ICE did not immediately respond to request for comment.
By the time attorneys realized AMPV's appeal window had closed, it was too late — but they asked a Texas immigration judge to reopen her case. It was denied, and an appeal is now pending to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
She is currently living in a shelter in McAllen, Texas, but has been told by staff not to unpack her bags, since she could be deported at any minute.
Because ICE has moved to deport her in the meantime, her pro bono lawyers filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia asking for a new immigration case. That request is scheduled to be heard on May 6 but will be moot if ICE follows through with its deportation on Friday.
Blake filed a temporary restraining order to stop AMPV's scheduled deportation until the matter of whether she has the right to new immigration proceedings is settled.
In court filings, he said, ICE violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which establishes care, release, and due process rights for unaccompanied immigrant children. The law also affords unaccompanied children other benefits, like access to counsel while in government custody and the ability to make an asylum claim to a USCIS officer instead of a judge.
Attorneys for AMPV argue that because she entered the US as an unaccompanied child, without her mother or any other legal guardian, ICE should start a new immigration case for her under the TVPRA.
Government attorneys said the federal courts don't have jurisdiction. The government also said the TVPRA only requires the Department of Homeland Security to place unaccompanied immigrant children in removal proceedings — but not new ones when, as in the case of AMPV, she still had time to appeal and fight her final deportation order from before.
"DHS committed no violation by treating Plaintiff as subject to her ongoing proceedings given that her time for appeal to the BIA had not yet expired," attorneys for the US said.
For months, desperate parents — like AMPV's mother, living in an encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, along the Rio Grande — have been sending their kids alone to the US. At first, many of these families did it so their children wouldn't have to live in a squalid camp where they're afraid of leaving and being kidnapped or assaulted.
Blake believes the Trump administration is trying to discourage parents in MPP from sending their children to the US alone as unaccompanied minors by trying to "aggressively" deport them.
"It's just compounding cruelty," he said.