Last year, a twenty-year-old Mexican crimonology college student made international headlines when she took over as police chief for a township in the border state of Chihuahua — one of Mexico’s most dangerous regions. Marisol Valles Garcia was the only person willing to accept the position after the town’s former police chief was gunned down and beheaded. “We’re all afraid in Mexico now. We can’t let fear beat us,” she said after being sworn in last October.
Yet, after just a few months on the job, newspapers are reporting that Valles Garcia was fired yesterday for “abandoning her post.” The young police chief was reportedly on leave to be with her child until Monday. However, she never returned. Although town officials are denying reports that Valles Garcia actually fled her post, her relatives have provided a different story. According to loved ones, Valles Garcia is in the U.S. seeking asylum after receiving multiple death threats from drug cartels. The AFP reports:
A college student and mother who was a Mexican bordertown police chief has fled to the United States seeking asylum, one of her relatives told AFP on Thursday. Marisol Valles, 20, “received death threats from a criminal group that wanted to force her to work for them,” the relative told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Valles, who has a baby son, took over the job as police chief in the town of Praxedis G. Guerrero in October after two other job candidates dropped out following the assassination of the mayor and his son.
Valles “went to the United States along with two relatives and will seek asylum,” the source told AFP.
Today, an official with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) told AFP that Valles Garcia is in fact in the United States.
The former police chief joins a growing group of Mexican and Central American nationals who have fled rampant drug violence in search of political asylum. The number of people asking for asylum at ports of entry just along the U.S. – Mexico border has nearly doubled over the past couple of years. Yet, obtaining asylum remains difficult. In order to qualify, asylum applicants must prove “credible fear” based on their membership in a social, political, religious, or ethnic group that has been targeted for persecution. Asylum applicants who are fleeing Latin America’s drug violence usually have no problem demonstrating that they have a reason to fear for their lives, however, persecution based on their membership in a group is much more difficult to prove. Less than two percent of the 3,800 Mexican asylum petitions were approved last year.
At least one Latin American asylum seeker who fled drug violence has been successful as the courts start to grapple with the modern day threats that many of our southern neighbors are facing. Last year, a journalist who received death threats after covering the drug war in Mexico was granted asylum in the U.S. It was deemed one of the first cases of its kind. Yet, a Texas court recently denied the asylum petition from a police officer from Juarez, Mexico on the basis that he simply faced “the risks police officers have to take.” (The asylum seeker in question, José Alarcón, claims he was being set up by his own bosses to be killed — which doesn’t seem like a risk any law enforcement officer should have to take in my opinion).
Based on precedent, Valles Garcia will likely face an uphill legal battle to stay in the U.S. At the very least though, the attention she has already attracted will most likely shed more light on a set of asylum standards that one Judge has referred to as “illogical” and “perverse.”