For the Salvadoran kids who escape gang violence and actually make it to the United States, stepping onto U.S. soil marks the end of their grueling journey, but the beginning of their legal struggles.
Such is the case of Manuel Portillo, who, at 16 years old, left El Salvador to live with his parents in Austin, Texas, where they had moved to send money home. A year later — like many other kids from El Salvador seeking asylum — Portillo had to go to court and argue his case to seek refugee status, but he couldn’t find a pro bono lawyer that would help him. He missed his court date in fear of being deported and continued going to school and working at a local restaurant.
But he was arrested one night when he was driving without a license. “When I saw a judge later, he said I just had to pay a fine because of the license — but then he said I’d have to go into the hands of immigration officers,” Portillo told Vice. He was sent to a detention center for eight days.
Forty-nine percent of kids fleeing Central America between 2014 and 2015 had no legal representation to help them navigate the system and get asylum. Those who have access to a lawyer are five times more likely to stay as refugees.
Things could improve for these kids with the Day in Court for Kids Act proposed by House Democrats, which would provide legal representation for migrant youths. “We are talking about children running for their lives in many instances,” said Rep. Luis Guitierrez, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “We need to make sure they have access to a lawyer, translator and a fair chance to navigate the American legal system so that they can get justice if they qualify for asylum and are fighting deportation.”
Portillo was lucky enough to have attorney Jacqueline Gurany step in and reopen his case. He was released from the detention center on bond thanks to her. “Manuel actually has a very strong asylum claim. He lived with [his] grandmother in an area dominated by gangs, [which] start to recruit boys at age 9 or 10 in the neighborhood,” Gurany said. And his uncle was nearly killed by gang members.
“I’m surprised Jacqueline helped me — and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to be here,” he said, “and I’ll keep fighting to stay.”
Read more about the future improvements on legal representation for migrant youth seeking asylum here
It’s no secret that countries across Latin America have some of the strictest abortion laws in the world – El Salvador is no exception. In fact, it’s the only known country that that regularly prosecutes and imprisons women as a result of its abortion ban – even in cases where the women suffered miscarriages, stillbirths and other obstetric emergencies.
But over the last decade, activists, lawyers, and international women’s groups have rallied behind Salvadoran women imprisoned for “obstetric emergencies.” Since 2009, more than 38 women have been released from jail, 16 remain incarcerated, and at least three — including Evelyn Hernandez — are in the middle of legal proceedings.
Evelyn Hernandez, of El Salvador, has been found innocent after a retrial.
Evelyn Hernandez’s case had made international headlines when she was tried for homicide charges after experiencing a stillbirth – when she didn’t even know she was pregnant.
But after years of maintains her innocence of any wrongdoing, Hernandez has finally been found innocent by El Salvador’s judicial system.
“I was made the victim of a justice system that is anything but just. I know that there are countless other women who have experienced the same in a country where miscarriages are still considered a crime and reproductive rights are nonexistent. We must stand up and demand that the Salvadoran government release all the remaining women who have been wrongfully put behind bars like me. The fight does not end here,” Hernandez said after the trial.
Her defense attorney added in a tweet, “I am about to explode with happiness.”
Amnesty International described the verdict as a “resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador” and called on the government to “end the shameful and discriminatory practice of criminalizing women”.
El Salvador has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world.
Since 1998, El Salvador has had a complete and total ban on abortion – with zero exceptions – including in cases where the woman’s life is at risk for the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. In fact, El Salavador is the only known country that regularly prosecutes and imprisons women as a result of its abortion ban – even in cases where the women suffered miscarriages, stillbirths and other obstetric emergencies.
Typically, women found guilty face between two and eight years in jail but in many cases – as was the case with Evelyn – charges are increased to aggravate homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years.
Today, more than 20 women are in prison under trumped up charges of manslaughter, homicide, or aggravated homicide after being accused of having an abortion. In total, at least 50 women have been imprisoned.
Evelyn’s case had been in the headlines for years after repeated appeals by prosecutors.
Evelyn’s case started when she was a victim of sexual violence in her community – having allegedly been raped by a gang member at 18-years-old.
She was first arrested after the body of her baby was found on the property of her rural home. Evelyn says she had experienced severe stomach pains and bleeding and went to the toilet, where she passed out. It’s here where her baby was stillborn. But in 2017, a judge ruled that Evelyn knew she was pregnant and tried to conceal the baby’s birth. She was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison, of which she has already served 33 months.
In July 2017, the judge ruled that Ms Hernández knew she was pregnant and found her guilty. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison of which she has already served 33 months.
Evelyn’s lawyers appealed the judge’s decision. They said forensic tests showed that the baby had died of meconium aspiration, inhaling his own stool. This can happen while the baby is still in the uterus, during delivery or immediately after birth.
The lawyers said the test proved that Evelyn had not tried to abort the baby but that it had died of natural causes. “There is no crime,” defense lawyer Bertha María Deleón said during oral arguments. In 2019, the country’s Supreme Court agreed and annulled Evelyn’s 2017 conviction and ordered a retrial with a new judge.
Evelyn’s case could have a major impact on several other women across the country accused of similar crimes.
According to human rights experts, there are at least 17 other women who have been jailed under the country’s strict abortion laws. Campaigners have successfully managed to free about 30 other women over the last decade – after winning hard-fought court cases.
Evelyn’s retrial is the first case to be heard under new President Nayib Bukele, who took office in June, and women’s groups are hoping he could usher in a more lenient stance on the issue.
President Bukele has said that he opposes abortion but has expressed sympathy with women suffering miscarriages who then come under suspicion.
“If a poor woman suffers a miscarriage, she’s immediately suspected of having had an abortion. That’s where the issue of social inequality comes into play,” he said while he was running for president.
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The 2020 Hurricane season is off to a very strong start – in fact, it’s a record breaking one. The season officially started on June 1st, however, we’re only on June 3rd and there have already been three named storms. Even before the season got started, officials were warning of an above average season and it seems their predictions are playing out.
Tropical Storm Amanda killed at least 20 people when it struck El Salvador, unleashing flooding and landslides.
After making landfall in El Salvador, Tropical Storm Amanda has been blamed for at least 20 deaths in the country. Officials there say that more than 7,000 people have been taken into shelters as the country attempts to recover from the devastating effects.
Torrential rains and strong winds destroyed hundreds of homes and left highways and roads out of service, stranding many in very dangerous situations.
Carolina Recinos, a senior aide to President Nayib Bukele, said the storm had dumped the equivalent of “almost 10 percent” of the annual rainfall on the country in a relatively short span of time.
Bukele declared a 15-day state of emergency to cope with the effects of Amanda, which he estimated to have caused $200 million in damage.
“We’ve never experienced this,” Maria Torres, whose house was damaged, told the Associated Press news agency. “The rain was so strong and suddenly, the water entered the homes, and we just saw how they fell.”
The storm came as the country of some 6.6 million people is grappling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, El Salvador has reported 2,582 confirmed Covid-19 infections and 46 related deaths. It’s not been as hard hit as many other Latin American countries, but experts agree that the country is poorly equipped to handle any further strain.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented situation: one top-level emergency on top of another serious one,” said San Salvador Mayor Ernesto Muyshondt.
The country had already instituted some of the most strict lockdown measures across the region. Even a trip to the market is heavily regulated – you’re only allowed access depending on the numbers in your identity documents, and residents aren’t allowed to cross municipal boundaries, even to buy food or medicine.
The storm also lashed other countries across Central America.
Both Guatemala and Honduras were also badly hit by the storm. In Honduras, four were left dead after they were swept away by rising flood waters. Meanwhile, several communities were left buried under feed of mud and debris and mudslides happened across the country.
Two people were also killed and two injured in Guatemala, where authorities reported 500 homes damaged.
After weakening, the storm has now reformed as Tropical Storm Cristobal and could pose a risk to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Tropical Storm Amanda weakened after impacting Central America and then entered the Gulf of Mexico, where it’s since reorganized into a new Tropical Storm – this time named Cristobal. This marks the first time in history that there have been three named storms so early in the hurricane season. Typically, the third named storm does not brew until way later in the season, occurring on average around Aug. 13
The weather disturbance is expected to move through the Gulf of Mexico in the coming days, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, and is likely to severely impact the Mexican coastline in the coming days.
The storm is expected to take a northward turn, and it could gain strength over the Gulf of Mexico prior to reaching the southern United States coastline.
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