A 21-year-old Salvadoran woman living in Western North Carolina is fighting an immigration judge’s order for her deportation.
As a teenager, she fled from El Salvador, where she says the gang MS-13 threatened to kill her.
The woman, whom we’re calling Rihanna to protect her identity, entered the US as an unaccompanied minor.
That was in 2014. Rihanna has since moved to Western North Carolina, waiting in line for what’s called a priority date -- when she can legally file for a green card. But last month, an immigration judge in Charlotte canceled her hearing and ordered for her deportation.
“Me siento muy mal porque aun mi sufrimiento no para. No sé si que pasara conmigo, la verdad no sé, no sé de mi mañana. Soy una persona sin un futuro, sin una esperanza, sin, no hay, me siento prácticamente muy vacía, no hay nada para mi.”
“I feel so bad because my suffering still doesn’t stop. I don’t know what will happen to me, don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Rihanna said. “I’m a person without a future, without any hope. I feel practically empty. There’s nothing left for me.”
In his decision, Judge Stuart Couch says Rihanna’s pending visa application is an “indeterminate event.” Essentially saying it’s too speculative for her to remain in the country.
“This judge is very concerned with managing his docket, his judicial schedule. He’s willing to manage and clear his schedule even if it means deporting people, like Rihanna, which is horrific,” Rihanna’s attorney George Pappas said.
Judge Couch’s order also says “the Court has legitimate concerns for administrative efficiency.” He’s referencing his heavy caseload -- and the massive backlog of immigration cases nationally. That’s compounded by the fact that immigration judges are now under more pressure from the Justice Department to clear their dockets. The DOJ under the Trump administration has mandated a quota system requiring judges to complete 700 cases a year. That change has led to more denials, like this one.
Meanwhile, Rihanna’s attorney is fighting the order on several fronts -- Pappas’ primary argument is that his client’s visa filing date is current.
“He’s misinterpreted the law by equating the need to have certainty as to when the visa for Rihanna will be current,” Pappas said. “There's nothing in the law that says certainty has to be established, here the facts clearly show, that her visa is not remote or too speculative.”
Pappas filed a notice of appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The board will then provide a schedule in the coming weeks. But he says it could take months, maybe a year, before the Board reaches a decision.