Last week, I got an email from my friend Chris Casazza, a partner with the immigration firm Solow, Isbell and Palladino in Philadelphia. He reached out to tell me about something that had happened to a former client, and he hoped that I could tell the story.
Here is the part of Chris’ email that convinced me I needed to write this column:
“I want people to read about this, I want the average citizen to realize why there are so many people at the border claiming asylum, I want judges to know what they are doing when they deny these cases, I want government attorneys and ICE agents to know what they are doing when they label these people criminals and monsters. I want them to know they have blood on their hands.”
Cruz Eduardo Tinoco Salvador was born on May 3, 1997, in Mexico. By the time he was 14, he was forced into joining a gang, the Sur-13. After his daughter was born, and after realizing that there was another way of life, he abandoned the gang and eventually made his way to the United States. He crossed the border illegally, came to Pennsylvania and found work as a roofer. He joined a church, and devoted himself to his family. He thought he could outrun his past.
But it caught up with him on June 20, 2017, when ICE discovered he was illegally in the United States, and took him into custody. Cruz pleaded with the immigration judge for asylum, claiming that if he was sent back, his former gang would kill him. He had an expert witness, a retired U.S. lieutenant colonel who had spent years stationed in Latin America and who testified that he would very likely be tortured or even killed if he was deported to Mexico. The immigration judge at the York Detention Center ruled that Cruz was telling the truth. But he still denied the asylum request, finding that he didn’t qualify for protection under the letter of the law, a law made even more stringent and draconian by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Cruz was deported. On July 17th, 2019, he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in exactly the way he predicted he’d be killed when he testified in front of the judge.
Chris Casazza contacted me out of the same sense of frustration that so many immigration advocates experience when we hear people talk about “liars.” President Trump suggested as much last year when he tweeted, “We shouldn’t ... let people come into our country based on the legal phrase they are told to say as their password.” In other words, they’re “coached.”
In 25 years of practicing immigration law, I have never had to pull a story out of anyone. Despite what the Trump administration would have you believe, refugees are motivated by fear, not a job prospect, and they are telling the truth. Tragedy happens when we shut our ears.
Ten years ago, I had a client from Kenya. Peter had run for office, and was harassed by his political opponents. He came to the U.S. legally on a tourist visa, and immediately filed for asylum. The judge who heard his case said he was lying, that his claim was “frivolous,” and ordered him deported. One week after he arrived in Nairobi, that political opponent went to Peter’s house and killed him with a machete.
We cannot see into the soul of a person, and we cannot walk in their shoes. But we have an obligation to give them the benefit of the doubt when they provide enough proof that their lives are in danger.
It’s too late for Cruz Eduardo. It is too late for Peter, who was a devout Catholic and who is part of the rosary I pray each Sunday.
But it’s time we open our eyes and realize that we are our brothers’ keepers, and if we continue to act as if we aren’t, there is no damn way this country is ever going to be “great again.”