Guatemalan activists sent to await asylum claim in Mexico

Border Report

El Paso lawyer 'shocked' that environmentalist, massacre survivor not allowed to remain in U.S.

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Two Guatemalan activists who surrendered to U.S. authorities on Monday to begin a political asylum claim based on persecution in their home country have been sent wait out their process in Mexico, where they were previously robbed and threatened by police and held by human traffickers.

Francisco Chavez Raymundo and Gaspar Cobo Corio were among a group of 150 individuals part of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program turned over to Mexican authorities at the Paso del Norte Bridge on Wednesday. The two are now staying as temporary guests in the home of a Juarez, Mexico family.

The Mayan Indians caught the attention of the El Paso news media with their tale of having left Guatemala under threats for their human nights and environmental activism, and then being victimized in Mexico.

Their lawyer, Carlos Spector, wanted U.S. immigration authorities to allow Chavez and Cobo to remain in the United States for their asylum claim. “The legal community has told me this is one of the strongest cases they have seen. I am shocked by this decision to send them to Juarez,” Spector said.

In a telephone interview from Juarez, Chavez and Cobo said they, too were surprised at beinig sent to Mexico. They are unsure how they will subsist and remain safe in Juarez, where they previously spent more than a month as captive of a group of human traffickers.

“I am very disillusioned,” Cobo said. “We fled Guatemala with the hope of finding protection somewhere else, but it looks like they don’t want to help us. We have endured (crimes) here in Mexico, including at the hands of the authorities. We are not finding solidarity as defenders of human rights and the environment, nor as human beings.”

He and Chavez on July 19 filed a complaint with the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, alleging they were robbed by a municipal police officer in Parral, Mexico, while on their way to Juarez, and that when they tried to file a complaint with Mexican police, they were told to leave or face charges themselves for giving money to a cop.

Chavez said he is concerned about his safety in Juarez, not only because human smugglers held him in an abandoned house with little food or water for several weeks, but also because of the random violence that occurs in neighborhoods where migrant shelters are located.

“We have seen violence here, not against us, but you always fear being struck by a stray bullet,” Chavez said. “The violence in Juarez is real, and we are worried.”

Spector and filmmaker Pamela Yates earlier this week spoke in support of the two Mayan activists and their asylum claim.

Chavez is a survivor of a 1982 massacre in an Indian village during a violent military coup led by Gen. Efrain Rios Montt. Chavez, a child at the time, and his younger sister were placed in a military detention center for several years. As an adult, Chavez later testified in a genocide trial against Rios Montt. He’s basing his asylum claim on recent persecution and death threats on the part of army sympathizers.

Cobo is an environmentalist that has been active against the expansion of mining operations into Indian lands. A friend of his was murdered recently and he received threats as well, according to his lawyer.

Spector said he will seek the support of a visiting congressional delegation to have his clients await their asylum process in El Paso, not Mexico.

Meantime, the two Guatemalan activists are uncertain of how they will weather a likely months-long wait in Mexico.

“We have worked for many years defending our land, our Mother Earth, helping the poor and those who marginalized. … Now, we will have to rely on the help of friends,” Cobo said.

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