Undocumented immigrant picked up by Marfa city attorney denied asylum

EL PASO – Esmeralda Sarai Orellana-Lazo, one of three undocumented immigrants picked up by Jeff Davis County and Marfa City Attorney Teresa Todd, has lost her case for asylum.

Orellana-Lazo had her individual hearing on Monday in El Paso and was denied asylum based in part on a ruling by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While in office in 2018, Sessions ruled that migrants who flee from domestic abuse or gang violence don’t qualify for asylum.

Orellana-Lazo needed medical attention for dehydration and exposure the night her brother flagged down Todd on Highway 17 in February.

Todd’s assistance of the three siblings led to her detainment by Border Patrol that night.

Orellana-Lazo and her two brothers fled from El Salvador to escape gang violence after a local gang leader took an interest in her and tried to abuse her when she was just 14 years old. The man continued to pursue Esmeralda and when she refused his advances, he threatened the siblings with violence.

Both the Homeland Security lawyer and judge were respectful of Orellana-Lazo, finding her to be credible but felt that the facts of her case did not qualify for asylum.

Typically, not being credible is the biggest problem in an asylum case. The majority of Central American cases are denied, and in El Paso, nearly 99% of Central American asylum cases are denied. Most are coming because of domestic abuse or gang violence instead of political violence.

“It was depressing but most of these cases are difficult and you don’t win very often,” said Molly Molloy, a paralegal and researcher who worked on Orellana-Lazo’s case.

Orellana-Lazo has the opportunity to appeal her case within 30 days, but it could take months for a decision. She’s currently held in detention, and her lawyer has requested bond twice, bond was denied both times.