As Domitila del Socorro Corrales mourns the death of her youngest son in Nicaragua, she’s also trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border into Nuevo Laredo, Texas, to seek asylum in the United States.
The Nicaraguan mother, who lost her 24-year-old son, Orlando Francisco Pérez Corrales, in April during the student protests against the government of Daniel Ortega, decided she had to leave her country when she was warned that authorities were planning to arrest her. She now faces the challenge of convincing U.S. immigration authorities that her life and freedom depend on being granted asylum.
On Tuesday, she made an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border. While still on the Mexican side, she was unable to reach a U.S. immigration officer. “They had us waiting on the bridge for more than an hour and a half, but the immigration officer never arrived,” said Corrales.
According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, during President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the rate of asylum applications granted was 34 percent — 7 percent less than in 2016 and 11 percent less than in 2015. During the first two quarters of 2018 the rate has been 28 percent, although this number probably won’t be the same at the end of the year.
Miami immigration lawyer Ira J. Kurzban said asylum cases are becoming tougher to make under the Trump administration. “At the border, Trump’s made it very clear they are going to try to turn asylum seekers away if they can,” he said.
Corrales said she is too afraid to go back to Nicaragua: “What I would like the most is to go back home, but I cannot.”
She said asylum in the United States is the only way she can continue to speak out about her son’s death at the hands of the Ortega government. The risk of continuing to do so in Nicaragua could mean jail or even death.
In four months of protests, more than 2,000 people in Nicaragua have been arrested, according to media reports. About 400 people are currently detained, many of whom are considered political prisoners. And, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), there have been 322 deaths in the protests.
“The intention is to sow fear, sow terror to appease the protests. If you survived the trenches, today you are charged with crimes, crimes that have no evidentiary basis, precisely to send a message to the population,” said Roger Santiago Alvarado, a Nicaraguan lawyer who represents three people who are being charged with terrorism by the government under a new law.
Repression in Nicaragua
Orlando Francisco Pérez Corrales was one of the first victims of the repression unleashed by the Ortega government. He died on April 20 in front of the town hall of Estelí with a bullet to the chest and another to the throat. According to the witnesses, the shots came from the town hall.
The last thing the young man said to his mother on the day he died was that he was going to take water to his classmates who were protesting and that he would soon return. The next news that Corrales had of her son was that his body was on its way to the morgue.
“He was a good kid. He didn’t hurt anyone and they killed him,” she said, crying over the phone.
He was a university student of Renewable Energy Engineering, a member of the youth ministry of the Diocese of Estelí and the son of a former Sandinista military officer.
On the morning of April 21, Corrales went to the courts to request an investigation into her son’s death. Until then, she had always been an Ortega loyalist, but her son’s death changed all that.
When she began her quest for justice and started taking part in the demonstrations against Ortega, the persecution and threats began. “Our life was never the same again,” she said.
“The siege to our house began. They had it under siege and armed people walked outside every time the door was open. My son-in-law was threatened with death because they said he was leading the people at the barricades in Estelí. My daughter — the police went to her job and strangers always came to the house looking for her,” said Corrales.
That’s when she decided to flee to Honduras. On July 12 — the day she heard that Sandinista Estelí authorities were going to arrest her — she grabbed her suitcases and left, along with her daughter Aracely Pérez Corrales, her son-in-law, Norman Pável Rodríguez and their 7-year-old daughter.
A few days before leaving, she and her three companions had paid $840 to obtain an appointment at the U.S. embassy in Honduras, but when they got there, on Aug. 1, she said they “didn’t even let us talk.”
She had hoped to obtain a tourist visa so she could travel to the United States so she could speak out against those who killed her son in a free and safe environment. But the consular official did not want to read the letters supporting her plea written by human rights organizations from Nicaragua and the United States, nor did they review the documents she had on her son’s case.
“I told her everything. I showed her the letters. I prayed to her heart to help us. I implored her that I did not want to be arrested because they murdered my son. Even so, the officer’s response was that if she gave us the visa she would lose her job,” Corrales said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, in response to a request for comment from el Nuevo Herald, said, “We cannot talk about visa denials in any case.”
During the Obama administration, it was possible to seek asylum in embassies in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, but Trump ended that policy, according to Ira J. Kurzban. Without this possibility, the only way to apply for asylum is at a “port of entry” in the United States, such as an airport or a border crossing.
Corrales wants to expose the people responsible for her son’s murder at an international level, and she plans to build a case against the Ortega government at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “I know the only way I can do that is to get to the United States,” she said.
In Miami, the president of the Dina Carrión Foundation — a nonprofit started by a Nicaraguan family to aid children orphaned by murder — has been in touch with Corrales. Aida Carrión has a case before IACHR against Nicaragua for denying her access to justice in the case of the murder of her sister, Dina Carrión, in 2010.
“I feel identified with [Corrales] because she lost a child violently, just as we lost my sister in a violent way,” said Carrión.
“We have a common feeling, the frustration of the impunity that prevails in the state of Nicaragua,” she added.
After 40 days of traveling and having to navigate many obstacles to cross Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, Corrales and her three companions reached the border with the United States this week. They sold all their belongings to make the trip and pay for a lawyer.
To establish her asylum claim she will have to pass a credible fear of persecution interview conducted by a U.S. immigration officer. But as her experience this Tuesday showed, first she will have to reach a U.S. officer.
The Dina Carrión Foundation and Unidos por Nicaragua, a South Florida humanitarian organization, have sought legal assistance for Corrales but it won’t be enough to defray the cost of the lawyers.