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  1. #1
    Senior Member FedUpinFarmersBranch's Avatar
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    May 2008

    MN-Asylum seeker has a second chance

    Rubén Rosario: Asylum seeker has a second chance
    By Rubén Rosario

    Article Last Updated: 08/23/2008 09:13:51 PM CDT

    Brenda Nohemi Morales de Fernandez is no longer under a night curfew. And on Friday, her electronic ankle bracelet also came off, the one her 4-year-old daughter — told it was a medical device — prayed to God to have removed.

    There are still restrictions to meet and rules to obey. But compared with what she's been through, Fernandez looks upon them as a blessing of sorts.

    An explanation is in order here.

    Fernandez, 34, is the alleged child kidnapping and rape victim who has been working for more than a year as a day care teacher's aide at St. Paul's Jewish Community Center. Legally here on a visa, she was resigned to voluntary deportation last month after an immigration judge and appeals board denied her request for asylum.

    She was making arrangements to fly anywhere but her native Guatemala, where she was snatched at age 14 by a reputed drug trafficker, a corrupt former narcotics cop who held and sexually abused Fernandez for nine years until she summoned the courage to escape. The man had threatened to kill her or harm her relatives if she left him, according to court documents.

    Fernandez kept the horrific saga to herself until she mentioned it during a June conversation with the parent of an infant she cares for at the community center.

    What happened next, regardless of the ultimate decision in Fernandez's asylum case, is a heartening example of when those American ideals of going to bat for an underdog, fair play and second chances

    play out in real life.
    A group of concerned Jewish Community Center parents and staffers, convinced that Fernandez had received ineffective counsel and that critical documents and information were not presented to the judge, mounted an 11th-hour campaign to win her another hearing.

    They raised money to help Fernandez defray legal costs. They persuaded the prestigious Minneapolis law firm Davis and Goldfarb to review the case and interview her. The lawyers, also convinced that Fernandez got a raw deal, filed a last-minute appeal on her behalf with the Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington.


    In what veteran immigration lawyers I know describe as an unusual move, the board reversed itself last week and said Fernandez deserved a new hearing before the same judge, in light of new evidence presented in her case.

    That new evidence included the unsolved execution-style slaying of one of Fernandez's brothers in Guatemala. The decomposing, bullet-riddled body of her brother, a farmer and the main caretaker of a 32-year-old brother with cerebral palsy, was found dumped in a ravine near the peasant family's hillside farm. The body was found March 6, eight days after the 40-year-old vanished.

    Other evidence not presented in earlier hearings included affidavits from numerous witnesses confirming Fernandez's story of abduction and captivity. Others — from relatives to former co-workers and friends — asserted that Fernandez; her daughter, Daniela; and Fernandez's estranged husband, Marco, have compelling reason to fear for their lives if they return to Guatemala.

    "On review of the entire record, we will grant the motion to reopen so that (Fernandez and her husband's) claim for asylum and relief can be re-evaluated in light of the new evidence,'' the board said in its decision.

    Law partners Michael Davis and Alan Goldfarb and their colleague Loddy Tolzmann expressed cautious optimism about the board's decision. Statistics indicate three of every four asylum "requites" are denied by immigration judges, who are Justice Department employees.

    "We are not out of the woods yet,'' Davis said. "But this is very good news. We are very delighted."

    So is Hart Johnson, a Jewish Community Center parent and key organizer who hugged Fernandez and tearfully informed her of the decision Tuesday as she was working at the day care center.

    "I often think about how Brenda has been on this roller coaster for almost six years in this country in addition to the tragic life she had in Guatemala, and I don't know how she has kept her spirit,'' Johnson said.

    "Then I realize Brenda is fighting for her life and for her freedom, and this is what keeps her going each day,'' he added. "We are so fortunate to live in a country that is based on freedom and justice for all, and Brenda is fighting for those rights."


    In an unexpected move, Fernandez was summoned July 23 to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Bloomington and fitted with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block the voluntary deportation while the appeal was being decided.

    Fernandez was given 12 hours to work and perform other chores as long as she was back home by 8 p.m. during the week.

    The curfew ran from noon to midnight Saturday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. She also had to visit the ICE office three times a week and submit an itinerary of what she planned to do — from taking her daughter to a park to purchasing groceries — a week in advance. The restrictions forced her to quit a part-time job she landed to help pay for her legal representation.

    She also needed ICE permission to wash her clothes, because the laundry in the apartment building where she lives is a dead zone for the electronic monitoring device. A set time to wash clothes on Thursdays was agreed upon.

    Fernandez's daughter last week asked a pastor at the Mount Zion church in Minneapolis to help her pray so the bracelet hurting her mother's leg could be removed.

    "She doesn't understand what is going on at her age, so ... I told her that a doctor had to put it on for my health,'' Fernandez said last week.

    While she awaits a new hearing in her case, Fernandez has to be home between 4 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays for a visit with an ICE official. She must visit the ICE office every Thursday to fill out the week-in-advance itinerary. She also has to find some way again to pay for continuing legal costs, even though the law firm is substantially discounting its services.

    She still fears she could be deported at any time. That's why she really doesn't mind the restrictions. She is grateful for being given another — perhaps much fairer — chance to have the judge hear and believe her story.

    "It is not important how much time it will take,'' Fernandez told me. "I will continue to do everything they ask or order of me. I will continue, particularly for my daughter. I want her to grow up here. And I can't express or thank everybody enough who has helped me with this struggle.''

    Rubén Rosario can be reached at or 651-228-5454.


    To read Rubén Rosario's initial column on Brenda Fernandez's story, go to
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  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Fernandez kept the horrific saga to herself until she mentioned it during a June conversation with the parent of an infant she cares for at the community center
    Hmmm..ironic she just happened to tell this story as she was about to be deported! Even if this story is true, why is it the only remedy to compensate for her situation is US Citizenship!!
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