Ten young immigrants who crossed the US-Mexico border Monday fleeing their countries of birth have completed the first stage in the asylum process, something that typically takes weeks or months.
Many of them grew up in the United States and were deported back to their countries of birth in recent years.
“Things seem to be moving really really fast for us,” said Jaren Rodriguez Orellana, calling from a phone at the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego on Friday.
Orellana fled gang violence in Honduras and was granted his “credible fear” interview the night prior, which will determine if his case moves to an immigration judge. Orellana has to convince U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that he has a legitimate “credible fear of persecution” if he returns home in order to be granted asylum.
If he passes his interview, he could be allowed to leave the detention center on parole and go back to his family in Northern California. If he fails, he could be deported back to Honduras. He could know his fate within a few days.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that conducts the interview, said they could not comment on the specifics of any of the credible fear cases.
Orellana was the first in a group of more than thirty young immigrants who turned themselves in at U.S. border as part of the “Bring Them Home” campaign organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. At age four, he was brought to the United States illegally, but returned to his country of birth when he was 18 to try to “fix his status,” on the advice of lawyer, but instead found himself stuck in the city with the highest homicide rate in the world — San Pedro Sulas, Honduras. During his year and a half there, he was stabbed and shot at by gang members.
Orellana says he’s getting used to waking up before dawn for breakfast at 5:00 a.m. and the early dinners at 4:00 p.m., but he says he can’t complain because he feels safer in detention than he did in San Pedro Sulas, and he knows that others have been there much longer than he has.
“There are other people here who have been waiting three months, six months for this interview and we just got here, and they brought us in within 48 hours,” Orellana said.
But, Mohammad Abdollahi of NIYA says he’s not surprised by speed at which the cases have been processed.
“They're being treated specially,” Abdollahi said. “Anytime, in our experience, any aspect of the immigration system is exposed to the public, the [Department of Homeland Security] wants it to be a different experience, everything is handled very justly, and quickly.”
Orellana and those he crossed with classify themselves as DREAMers — a group of young undocumented immigrants eligible to earn citizenship under the DREAM Act, a proposal that has long been stalled in Congress. In 2012, President Obama announced that his administration would temporarily stop deporting immigrants eligible for relief under the DREAM Act.
The DREAMers detained earlier this week were the first to cross in a week long series of crossings organized by NIYA. Abdollahi says 31 people crossed on Thursday afternoon, including 12 U.S. citizen children and their recently deported parents. Between 90 and 100 more immigrants will present themselves on Sunday.
Just hours after the parents who had been deported turned themselves in at the Tijuana-San Diego port of entry, President Obama asked for a review of his administration’s deportation policies. The announcement came after years of months of pressure from advocates and politicians. Obama asked that the Department of Homeland Security review their practices “to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
Orellana, who hasn’t seen most of his family in a year and a half, says he’s skeptical of the president’s announcement — but hopeful.
“It’s great if he actually does something about it,” he said. “I hope its true, because I’ve met a lot of people who have been here for months fighting to see their families. I really hope it’s true this time.”
Cristina is an Emmy-nominated reporter and producer. She recently won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for her documentary Death by Fentanyl. She attended Yale University and has reported for the New Haven Independent, ABC News, Univision, The Huffington Post, and Fusion.
Jorge Rivas is the national affairs correspondent at Fusion. He follows the national conversation through the lens of racial, sexual, and political identity.