An 11-year-old girl who fled to the United States to escape gang violence has been ordered deported back to El Salvador without her mother, where she would face imminent danger, thanks to an alleged error by immigration officials.
Dora Alvarado and her two daughters crossed the southern border in October to seek asylum in the United States after one of their relatives testified against a dangerous gang in El Salvador. In retaliation, the gang has since been threatening the family. The Alvarado family is among a record number of Central American families who have recently sought asylum in the United States so they can escape surging crime and gang violence — entering into an overtaxed and underfunded immigration court system.
Alvarado and her 15-year-old daughter, Adamaris Alvarado, were listed on the March 12 docket at an immigration court in Houston. However, a court translator told her that 11-year-old daughter, Laura Maradiaga, was not listed.
Days later, the family received a notice ordering Laura’s removal from the United States because she had missed her March 12 court date, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“I don’t want to leave my mom… I want to stay with her,” the 11-year-old said during a press conference on Thursday.
FIEL, a local immigration advocacy group, blamed the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts for the Department of Justice, for Maradiaga’s deportation order. The group plans to file a motion early next week to re-open the case and prevent the child from being deported to El Salvador.
“I hope the judge can see it was a clear mistake on behalf of the court. I don’t think it was ill-intentioned, but it shows how overworked these courts are,” the family’s lawyer, Silvia Mintz, said at Thursday’s press conference.
The Trump administration has been pushing already overtaxed immigration judges to take on even more cases per day so they can get them through the system faster — a move that threatened the due process rights of asylum seekers. The immigration court backlog is now over 800,000 cases nationwide.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been actively trying to stop asylum seekers from attempting to lawfully enter into the United States at all.
In December, the Trump administration implemented a new policy that forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their case is processed, a move that immigration advocacy groups say endangers the lives of those fleeing violence. The administration has also tried to stop people fleeing domestic violence and gang violence from qualifying for asylum. However, both of those decisions have so far been blocked by the courts.
The Alvarado family’s case sparked national backlash after the Houston Chronicle reported on it earlier this week, according to FIEL. The group plans to set up a crowdfunding site to raise money to help cover the family’s living expenses.