Applying For Asylum In The United States During The Pandemic: One Couple’s Story

Apr 24, 2020

 

 

Last June, Roxana Espinoza Trigueros and her wife Carolina Espinoza Trigueros applied for asylum in the United States after living in Mexico for three years. The women said they were discriminated against for being a couple.   

Once they were notified that their application was being considered, they went to an office in San Isidro near the border. There, they spent 11 nights in a room they said was referred to as the “llelerar” or the freezer.

“It’s a room that's very cold where there are a lot of people. They only gave us an aluminum sheet to cover ourselves with,” 29-year-old Carolina said.

Carolina and Roxana, 49, said they slept on the floor with roughly 25 other women.  They weren’t allowed to shower every day. But even when they did shower, they were forced to dress in the same dirty clothes they were wearing.

“They gave us only burrito, burrito, burrito. All of us became constipated because that’s all they would feed us and we could only drink water from the sink in the bathroom which was extremely cold as well,” Carolina said.

They first fled their home country, El Salvador, three years ago after facing harassment from members of their community, including Roxana’s ex-husband with whom she has three kids.

“Once my children’s father found out, he began to verbally harass us until one day he forced us out of the house I shared with my children. That’s when we decided to go to Mexico,” Roxana said.

And then from Mexico to the United States. Roxana and Carolina were transferred from San Isidro to the Mesa Verde detention center in Bakersfield in October. 

“So they are married,” said Lisa Knox, a lawyer with Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland, who represents both women. “They were planning to go live with Roxana’s family in Texas and submitted a parole request because asylum seekers that pass that initial ‘credible fears’ screening test are eligible to request a parole bond.”

Although their applications were nearly identical, Carolina was granted a $10,000 bond but Roxana was denied, Knox said.

But Carolina’s bond was too high for their family to pay, according to Knox. And with Roxana’s parole denied, Carolina decided to stay at Mesa Verde with her wife. Two months later, they learned about the coronavirus while watching the news. 

 

“When we heard about the pandemic we all got scared because they give us only a 10 milliliter  bottle to clean ourselves and to wash dishes,” said Carolina.“That’s the antibacterial stuff they gave us.”

When Roxana asked for better cleaning supplies, she said ICE officers denied her request saying she might use it to harm other detainees. 

“They said they were taking precautions but that was false. There were many officials that came to work with a cough. They continue to bring people in,” Roxana said. “There were three officers who came in with a cough, hiccups, a fever.”

Although ICE says it is currently screening officers who come into the facility and it encourages detainees to do everything they can to social distance, lawyer Lisa Knox was worried about her clients. She said the facility wasn’t providing much guidance.

“They were told to wash their hands to practice social distancing which is really impossible under those conditions,” said Knox. “They weren’t really given information about any other steps that were going to be taken.”

She was particularly worried about Roxana, who has hypertension and Colitis, a chronic digestive disease. So she joined an ACLU lawsuit against ICE demanding the release of 12 people who are at-risk of contracting COVID-19.  

“ICE did decide to reconsider the parole request for both of the women. So they reconsidered and granted Roxana a parole bond for $4,000 and her wife as well,” Knox said. 

After six months in Mesa Verde, both women are now with Roxana’s family in Texas where they await the final hearing on their asylum application.