Rosario’s Story: The Plight and Flight of Asylum Seekers

Immigrants often leave dangerous circumstances, risking everything for a chance to create a better, safer life elsewhere. For Rosario, as for many female migrants and refugees, sexual violence, children’s welfare, and one’s very survival are factors.

When eighteen-year-old Rosario arrived at the KBI women’s shelter in March, she was seven months pregnant. Accompanied by three female cousins, she’d travelled from Oaxaca to the U.S.–Mexico border to flee the political violence and armed conflicts of her indigenous Triqui homeland to seek protection and apply for asylum in the U.S. The four women, though not charged with a crime themselves, were detained in a U.S. federal prison for a month to testify against their smuggler—no asylum information provided, no investigation of credible fear, no Triqui interpreter for the two women who did not speak Spanish—before being deported to Nogales, Mexico where they encountered the KBI.

As heartbreaking as Rosario’s detention experience was, what brought her to the border in the first place is even more harrowing. In August, she was raped when going to the store, an all-too-common occurrence for women in the Triqui region where rape and sexual violence have become weapons in what is effectively an undeclared war among different local factions. (Rosario’s cousins also suffered gender-based violence.) In a culture of arranged marriages and negotiated “bride prices,” rape “devalues” the assaulted woman in the eyes of the community and families she might marry into. It also creates opportunities for blackmail and extortion by political groups—of the victim’s family and of possibly innocent men who stand accused.

When she discovered the pregnancy two months later, the Triqui authorities took Rosario and her mother into custody, not to ascertain if a crime occurred and investigate, but to tie them up and force them to falsely accuse another man of the rape for extortion purposes. When Rosario refused to make a false accusation, she was told she had to pay a “fine” of 80,000 pesos (about US$4,250), an enormous sum. She and her mother spent 8 days in jail without food or water. She was finally released with the stipulation that she collect and deliver the money demanded. Instead, she headed north.

After enduring the traumatic violence of her homeland, a 1,600-mile journey, a month in federal prison, and deportation—all while pregnant—Rosario was able to recover in a secure and supportive environment, learn more about her rights, and consider her options while at the KBI shelter. Knowing that returning to the Triqui region could result in incarceration, harm, or even death for herself and her child, she has decided to apply for asylum in the U.S., as have her cousins. Now a mother, Rosario awaits the outcome of her asylum case and the chance of a new, safe home for herself and her newborn.

Embed from Getty Images. The indigenous Triqui have lived with violence from within their community and from state-sanctioned forces for decades. Here, a Triqui woman demonstrates in the city of San Juan Copala. Photo from Getty Images/AFP.

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