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Life after ‘Stay in Mexico’: Migrant family case closed but future remains uncertain

Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of our two-part series, “Life After Remaining in Mexico”, Documenting the two-year journey of one of the first families sent back across the border under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, Read Part 1: A Honduran family’s harrowing journey to the US, camp in Mexico; and Part 2: One family’s struggles in America before the immigration court hearings.

HOUSTON (border report) – Carolina Carranza Silva sat wringing her hands on the veranda of her sparse apartment. The 24-year-old, who doesn’t speak English, was scared and unsure of what the future held for her small and growing family after she recently skipped a trial in an immigration court.

They came to the United States from Honduras in 2019. She and her partner Jose Escobar and 5-year-old daughter Emily did not attend their mandatory appearance before US immigration judge Joshua Osborn in downtown Houston on February 15.

Carolina knew that doing so would mean immediate deportation for her and her family. However, in a surprising ruling, the foreigners’ judge dropped their proceedings – which means that the federal government is suspending its deportation proceedings against them, at least for the time being.

They could still be charged for not being citizens and could be deported in the future, but case terminations seem to be on the rise under the Biden administration.

Court data shows the US government handed out more layoffs in the past fiscal year than in any year since 1998, According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), tracked the immigration cases.

In fiscal 2021, which ended Sept. 30, there were 37,567 immigration court closures, according to TRAC — a 65% increase from the previous fiscal year when Donald Trump was president.

“Last year was the highest number of layoffs since fiscal 1998, according to court records,” TRAC co-founder Susan Long told Border Report.

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(Graphic by TRAC)

Carolina was on her way to work when Border Report caught up with her and told her about the verdict.

She said she and her family could not afford a lawyer and feared they would be deported back to Honduras if they went before the judge. She said she couldn’t risk being turned away by her 1-year-old daughter, Isabela, a US citizen who was born in Houston.

So they made the decision not to attend the mandatory hearing.

Border Report has been following her family since she was among the first to be deported back to Mexico from south Texas in the summer of 2019 as part of President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols program.

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Carolina Silva Carranza is seen under a blue tent where her family lived for nearly five months in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico, on October 31, 2019. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

For nearly five months, they lived in a run-down migrant camp under a tattered second-hand blue tent pitched at the foot of the Gateway International Bridge in the Mexican border town of Matamoros across from Brownsville, Texas. An immigration judge finally allowed them to enter Brownsville in November 2019 after Carolina became pregnant. They were granted parole on humanitarian grounds and were allowed to reside legally in the United States as long as they obeyed all laws and attended all immigration court hearings.

Carolina said they all went to her first scheduled court hearing in Houston in March 2020, but it was canceled due to the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic. Another hearing scheduled a year later was also canceled, she said.

Her first personal hearing was on February 15 this year, but she said the family made a “difficult decision” not to go to Honduras after a friend’s husband was deported to Honduras after attending an immigration hearing in Honduras Houston had gone a few months ago.

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Carolina Silva Carranza on February 16, 2022 on why she failed to appear in immigration court in Houston, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Even though their case has been dropped, that doesn’t mean they can stay here indefinitely and they could still be deported. Because as a non-citizen, the federal government can at any time re-indict you for entering the United States illegally.

The family rafted across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico one night in July 2019 and illegally entered south Texas near the town of Hidalgo. They surrendered to US Border Patrol agents but were turned back to Mexico after a few days as part of the MPP policy that had just started in South Texas.

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Carolina Silva Carranza, right, talks to her then 2-year-old daughter Emily on August 22, 2019. Her partner Jose Escobar sits between them at a camp housing migrants in Matamoros, Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

When they were legally allowed to enter Brownsville, Texas, after 150 days in the migrant camp, the Department of Homeland Security gave them a “Notice to Appear” document, which they signed and agreed to attend any future U.S. immigration court hearings. The document was a reaction to the fact that the federal government had issued deportation orders against them for illegal crossing.

But when a case is dropped, the immigrant’s status is often uncertain, legal experts say.

The migrant is allowed to stay for the time being, but resignation confers no status or other benefits. Essentially, it allows them to live in a shadow economy in the United States.

“A dismissal would generally be issued by the court unless the government has established that the person is deportable,” Long said. “The question becomes, ‘Do they have any basis for getting some sort of legal status here so they can stay?'”

Carolina originally tried to apply for asylum due to political persecution. She says she has been an outspoken political activist against former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.

Hernandez was arrested in February and faces extradition to the United States stand trial on drug trafficking and weapons charges.

Juan Orlando Hernandez
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez answers questions August 13, 2019 as he leaves a meeting at the Organization of American States in Washington. On February 14, 2022, the US government requested the extradition of ex-President Hernandez on drug trafficking charges. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, file)

Carolina said her family migrated 1,700 miles north, much of it walking through Mexico, to escape the poverty and gangs that were rampant in Honduras under Hernández’s rule. On the trip, they were kidnapped twice and held for ransom before being shipped back to Mexico under the Trump administration.

She blames both former presidents for much of her family’s woe, and she said just because Hernández is out of office doesn’t mean the country will improve immediately. She said President Xiomara Castro, who took office in January, has a lot of work ahead of him.

“For eight years we had the president who wasn’t right. That’s why we left. Because we wanted the president who fits the country,” she said in Spanish. “There were no job opportunities. The education system was bad and because of the political situation we decided to come here.”

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Carolina Silva Carranza’s family skipped a hearing at George Thomas “Mickey” Leland’s Federal Building in Houston, Texas on February 15, 2022. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Carolina has not given DHS her address and is now working without a work permit — a crime that in itself could get her deported from the Department of Homeland Security.

She is unsure whether she submitted the correct asylum papers when she first entered the United States.

Border Report reached out to officials at the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) to further explain the family’s dismissal process, but no information was received.

TRAC’s Long said her organization cannot correlate closed migrant cases with deportations because the nonprofit only receives monthly “datadumps” of information stacks detailing court orders or rulings, but no files on individual cases. Due to privacy laws, they don’t know the migrant’s alien registration number, known as the A number, so they can’t track individual cases. Therefore, they would not know if DHS has filed additional charges against a migrant after a case has been completed, or if the migrant is being deported, or if the migrant is allowed to stay and what their status is.

“We essentially get monthly dumps of the internal database that the court keeps to track its workload, but it’s not the documents,” Long said.

In Carolina’s case, she said she was constantly worried about the uncertainty of her future.

A call to the EOIR 1-800 hotline operated by DHS results in a message stating, “The system does not have information about a future hearing date in your case.”

Carolina’s family doesn’t have health insurance and she and Jose make little money. Only Isabella receives subsidized assistance because she was born in the United States, and Emily gets free meals at her school, which is in a low-income area where all children get free breakfast and lunch.

She said she often sits on her porch, listening to children play and imagining Emily.

She said the family is praying to God they are not forced to leave.

“We’re going to ask God. God is the only one who knows what is going to happen to us in this moment. If God wants us to stay, we’ll be here. Otherwise we’re gone,” she said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

https://www.wavy.com/news/world/life-after-remain-in-mexico-migrant-familys-case-terminated-but-future-remains-uncertain/ Life after ‘Stay in Mexico’: Migrant family case closed but future remains uncertain

Russell Falcon

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