CINCINNATI (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered U.S. immigration authorities to reconsider the case of a Mexican mother of four U.S.-born children who was deported last year while claiming she was threatened by a Mexican drug cartel.
"This was crucial," attorney Emily Brown said. "This was basically the end of the line for her legal case if she had not won today."
A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Maribel Trujillo Diaz. It said the Board of Immigration Appeals shouldn’t have rejected her motion to reopen removal proceedings based on new testimony about threats against her and her family by the Knights Templar cartel.
Her case had drawn attention as an early example of toughened immigration enforcement under Republican President Donald Trump. Her deportation attracted criticism from Cincinnati’s Catholic archdiocese and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich. Wednesday’s opinion was written by a Trump nominee, John K. Bush.
Trujillo Diaz’s father gave a sworn statement that he was kidnapped by drug gang members in 2014. According to him, they had been seeking revenge because his son had refused to work for a related drug cartel and fled the country. The father said the members told him they “knew Maribel had gone to the United States” and warned that “the whole family would suffer.”
The immigration appeals board had called her fears “generalized, conclusory speculation.” The appeals court opinion said the board didn’t have any proof that her father’s statements were unbelievable or inconsistent with other evidence.
“The BIA abused its discretion in finding that Trujillo Diaz failed to present (sufficient) evidence that her fear of persecution, or the threat to her life or freedom, was related to her family membership,” Bush wrote.
Khaalid Walls, a Detroit-based spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to comment Wednesday on “pending litigation.”
Jose Cabrera, a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals who could face deportation himself if the program is not renewed, said Trujillo Diaz's story gave him hope.
"It's starting to show that the courts are having a humane side to this issue," he said.
Even if immigration officials find that Trujillo Diaz has grounds to return to the United States, her reunion with her family could take months -- possibly even longer.
"The uncertainty of not knowing when you are going to be reunited with your children is obviously excruciating and she feels that everyday," Brown said.
The family can do nothing but wait.