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A Cuban citizen living in Mexico said Border Patrol agents saved her life after she escaped from a kidnapping attempt. But their intervention also thrust her into a confounding bureaucratic process that kept her separated from her family even after a judge terminated her case.
YGA was on her way to an office building in Tijuana one Tuesday in September, when suddenly a man with a gun and a woman with a knife forced her into their car.
“I was so scare[d], so [I] get in the car,” YGA wrote in a declaration her husband provided to VOSD that has not yet been filed in court. “They told me [to lie] down in the back of the car [and] the woman put her foot on top of my head and [held] the knife on my throat.”
Voice of San Diego agreed to identify YGA by her initials because she is a victim of a crime, and fears retaliation from her kidnappers.
After driving for about an hour, they took her out of the car in an area she didn’t recognize and asked her whether she had money and family in the United States, according to the declaration. When she said no and began to scream for help, one of them tried to strangle her with her own jacket, she wrote.
Another man with a gun, who was not with the group, suddenly appeared and started shooting into the air, she wrote in the declaration. During the chaos that ensued, she escaped.
She ran up a hill until she saw a white truck in the distance, and started waving her arms. It was a Border Patrol vehicle.
YGA wrote in the declaration that the agents saved her life. But their intervention and the confounding bureaucracy it kicked off was the start of a whole new nightmare for YGA – one that took much longer to escape from.
Ironically, YGA had been on her way to meet with an immigration attorney when she says she was kidnapped.
YGA, who is Cuban, met her husband, Daniel Tagle, a dual U.S. and Mexican citizen, while he was traveling in Cuba years ago. They fell in love and she moved to Mexico to live with Tagle. The couple now lives in Tijuana with their two U.S. citizen daughters.
They have plans to marry and pursue U.S. citizenship for YGA. The day YGA was kidnapped, she was going to consult the attorney in Tijuana about how to move forward with the process.
When YGA flagged down the Border Patrol officers, she said they asked her if she was afraid to go back to Mexico – a standard question to determine whether someone caught crossing the border wants to seek asylum. YGA confirmed she was afraid to go back, thinking the agents had literally meant go back to where she’d run from – back to her kidnappers.
But because she’d answered yes, Border Patrol enrolled YGA in the Migration Protection Protocols – the so-called “Remain in Mexico” program – which requires asylum-seekers to await their immigration proceedings in Mexico. She returned to her family in Tijuana and awaited her immigration hearing a few weeks later.
At the hearing, her attorney asked the judge to terminate her case, since YGA had never actually intended to seek asylum. She wanted to stick to her original plan: pursuing citizenship once she married Tagle. The judge granted her request, and terminated her case.
But instead of returning to her family, YGA was once again handed over to Border Patrol.
“She didn’t return home that day,” her attorney, Nadia Galash, said. Galash described receiving a frustrating runaround from immigration officials as she tried to determine YGA’s whereabouts – a situation other attorneys representing people in Migrant Protection Protocol cases have also experienced.
“I have never handled an MPP case, and I felt sick to my stomach, personally,” Galash said. “The way the government made me run around – I felt like a hamster in a wheel.”
Despite having a judge’s order terminating her case, Border Patrol placed her in removal proceedings again. She was once again given a “Notice to Appear” in immigration court. She would have to show back up a few weeks later. It was like the judge’s order didn’t exist.
Border Patrol Agent Jeffery Stephenson said he can’t comment on specific cases.
“What I can tell you is that if agents issued the subject another [Notice to Appear], it is because they are following the guidance that they have been given by [ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations] and [U.S. Customs and Immigration Services],” Stephenson said. “I will also say that anytime someone crosses the border illegally and doesn’t present themselves at an official port of entry (whether or not they are seeking asylum) they are subject to removal proceedings.”
While in custody after her case had been terminated YGA requested medical care multiple times and wasn’t taken to a hospital until the following day, after her nose started bleeding, she wrote in the declaration. She also described verbal abuse and physical aggression from certain officers while she was in custody.
Mexican immigration officials were wary of letting her return to Mexico, because of the documentation she had from the judge terminating her case, she wrote in the declaration. They finally let her return, she wrote, but “not before warning me [that] if I came back to the next court [date] they will not let me [re-enter] to Mexico.”
YGA was in limbo: If she traveled to the U.S. for her court hearing, she risked not being able to return to Mexico to her family. But if she didn’t show up to the hearing, she risked a judge ordering her deportation in absentia – a fate that would bar her from trying to apply for legal status in the U.S. for 10 years.
Her fear of being separated from her family won out – YGA decided not to attend the hearing. She still breastfeeds her 6-month-old daughter.
“Unfortunately, she [has] not recovered yet from that experience, and we decided not to show up,” Tagle said via text message. “There [are] no guarantees [she won’t] have that experience again.”
But YGA got lucky.
On Wednesday, the day of the second hearing, a different judge dismissed her case for the second time. This time, she wasn’t around to be detained again.