- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2018

The mother and child in that now-iconic photo of family separation not only weren’t separated, but their claims of asylum are also likely bogus, experts tell The Washington Times.

The woman, identified in news reports as Sandra Sanchez, was deported from the U.S. in 2013, which analysts said suggests her latest attempt to enter the U.S. is likely about illegal immigration rather than asylum.

Her decision to leave others of her children back home — recounted by the girl’s father, Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, to The Washington Post and Reuters last week — will also likely weigh on her chances, suggesting that she didn’t fear for them in their home country.

“If the children and her spouse are safe, and she felt comfortable leaving them home, it is arguable that the mother has no real fear of persecution,” said Matthew J. O’Brien, a former anti-fraud official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who now works at the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

As the hysteria of the early days of the border child separation crisis fades, the stories of the parents and children are beginning to get more attention — and some of the stories are turning out not to be what they seemed at first blush.



Ms. Sanchez’s story is perhaps the best known after a photo of her daughter, wearing a pink jacket and staring in wide-eyed anguish while her mother talks with Border Patrol agents, swept the country.

Time magazine splashed the photo on its front cover this week in a photo illustration superimposing President Trump in a staring competition with the tyke, with the caption “Welcome to America.” It was supposed to be the image of the separation practice, which resulted from the administration’s zero-tolerance policy of arresting illegal border jumpers.

Yet it turns out that the girl was never separated from her mother and, as best as analysts can tell, she has been treated the same way she would have been under the Obama administration — kept together in a family facility while they are processed for their asylum claim.

Time has since corrected the online version.

Mr. Valera said Ms. Sanchez took Yanela, who is nearly 2 years old, without telling him or the couple’s other three children.

Both Mr. O’Brien and Andrew “Art” Arthur, a former immigration judge who is now a resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said that regardless of Ms. Sanchez’s asylum claims, the U.S. government may have an obligation to send Yanela back to her father in Honduras.

Ms. Sanchez made the journey to search out better economic opportunities in the U.S., Mr. Valera told Reuters. Ms. Sanchez felt unsafe in Honduras, he told The Post. Like many of the new migrants, she has requested asylum in the U.S., hoping to take advantage of a generous system.

But neither of her claims of economic opportunity or general unease is likely to be enough to earn her asylum, the analysts said. That is particularly true after Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a ruling in the past month insisting asylum claims must show persecution for their race, religion, political beliefs or some other particular characteristic. General domestic abuse or fear of gang violence isn’t enough.

Also stacked against her is the law, which says inconsistent stories can undermine a claimant’s credibility.

“Unless there are more facts, we don’t know. She’s probably not going to have an asylum claim in the United States,” Mr. Arthur said.

Mr. Valera said that’s fine with him as long as his daughter leaves when Ms. Sanchez’s claim is denied and she is sent home.

“If they are deported, that is OK as long as they do not leave the child without her mother,” he told Reuters. “I am waiting to see what happens with them.”

Mr. O’Brien said the press coverage of this case and others has given the public a distorted view of the situation.

“The mainstream media is falling all over itself not to furnish the public with relevant details, like the fact that this woman was previously deported and isn’t even eligible for asylum,” he said. “It appears to be a case of deliberate journalistic misrepresentation in support of a partisan political cause.”

Asylum turns out to a high bar. For those at the border, the process begins with an assertion of “credible fear” of violence or persecution back home. That bar is low. More than 94 percent of those in the recent migrant caravan were able to make claims of credible fear, giving them a foothold in the U.S.

But few will go on to fill out the asylum paperwork — a first indication that they may not have had a valid case. The latest government statistics show that just 15 percent of those who made initial credible fear claims this year have filed for asylum.

Of those who do fill out the paperwork, the vast majority will lose their asylum cases. Justice Department figures say the approval rate this year is about 1 in 5. That suggests only about 3 percent of the migrants arriving at the border and claiming asylum will be granted that status.

The problem, Republicans say, is that those who clear the initial credible fear standard are generally released into the U.S., giving them a chance to disappear into the shadows. Republicans say that cries out for a change in the law to raise the standards and allow faster removal for those making bogus claims.

“The vast majority of these individuals are coming for economic reasons. That’s why they’re coming from Central America. They’re not fleeing to Costa Rica or Belize or Ecuador, who also have great asylum laws,” Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Democrats say the immigrants should be considered refugees from horrific conditions.

“They are not coming here illegally. They are coming here seeking asylum and protection,” Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week” program.

As for the mother and her daughter, they were at a family detention center in southern Texas awaiting their fate.

Mr. O’Brien said despite the case against them it’s still possible they get asylum thanks to an overzealous asylum officer or a lenient immigration judge.

“The bulk of the asylum officer corps is drawn from former Peace Corps types who attended schools like the extremely left-leaning School for International Training in Vermont. As a result, there’s absolutely no telling what an asylum officer would do in a case like this,” he said. “And the immigration bench is also overloaded with activist, hard-left ideologues — so it’s equally unclear how an IJ would rule in this instance.”

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