Many Central American immigrants seeking legal help are fleeing organized crime in their own countries.
By Francisco Goldman, New Yorker
August 9, 2016
I fiirst learned of Central American Legal Assistance in the fall of 2009, from a letter mailed to my Brooklyn address that I read months after it was posted, having just returned from a long summer in Mexico. The letter was written by Betsy Plum, a cala caseworker, and described the situation of a Guatemalan woman living in the metropolitan area who was in deportation proceedings while also seeking political asylum. In Guatemala, the woman had discovered that her romantic partner had been involved with men previously linked to the 1998 murder of the Guatemalan bishop and human-rights activist Monsignor Juan José Gerardi Conedera; in a 2001 trial, some of those men were sentenced to prison for that crime. The woman had unwittingly, though at close hand, overheard a conversation implicating at least two of them, including her partner, in a prison murder. (One of the men, Byron Lima Oliva, was murdered in prison, on July 18th of this year.)
Plum’s letter, which shared only some of what her client knew, included names that would only be known to somebody familiar with the small, dangerous circle of convicted and alleged co-conspirators linked to the bishop’s murder and other criminal activities—a mix of military men and civilians, some involved in arms and drug trafficking, some in and some out of prison, and one extremely powerful politician long suspected by some investigators of being the group’s secret leader and protector. Alarmed by what she’d discovered about her partner’s deepening entanglement with this group, the Guatemalan woman had sought to leave him. Months later, she was kidnapped, tortured, and repeatedly raped. A relative whom she was suspected of having told about what she’d witnessed was murdered. Through a subterfuge, she managed to escape her imprisonment and fled to the United States, where for a few years she lived the hidden life of an undocumented migrant, until she was detained by U.S. authorities.[...]
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