A federal appeals court in Cincinnati on Wednesday ordered U.S. immigration officials to reconsider the case of a Mexican mother of four who was deported in April, saying she showed credible evidence of threats to her safety from a Mexican drug cartel.
The three-judge panel ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals “abused its discretion” when it rejected a motion from Maribel Trujillo Diaz to reopen her removal proceedings.
The deportation of Trujillo, who had no criminal record and had been in the United States since 2002, became a symbol of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration enforcement. Wednesday’s opinion in favor of Trujillo was written by a Trump judicial appointee known for his conservative views, Judge John K. Bush.
In spring, Trujillo’s lawyers had asked immigration authorities to reopen her case based on new evidence of “changed circumstances” in her home country. Her brother had fled Mexico years ago, refusing to join a drug cartel called La Familia. In revenge, an offshoot cartel, the Knights Templar, kidnapped her father in 2014 and threatened to harm his family — including Trujillo. The father’s captors told him they “knew that Maribel had gone to the United States,” the father said in a sworn statement.
The Board of Immigration Appeals in May denied Trujillo’s motion, claiming she had failed to show sufficient evidence that she would specifically be targeted on account of her family ties. This conclusion, Bush wrote Wednesday, discredited the facts in her case.
Her father’s testimony, the judge wrote, “contained concrete, factual assertions as to the familial motivation behind his kidnapping and the threat of harm to Trujillo Diaz.” The case now moves back to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The ruling marked a victory for supporters of Trujillo’s case, which drew nationwide attention and bipartisan support from politicians. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, spoke out against her deportation, insisting “we have enough broken families in the country,” to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Mexico’s foreign relations department condemned her deportation, saying it marked “a violation of the stated norms for deportation,” since Trujillo did not represent a security risk.
Catholic dioceses in multiple states lobbied the U.S. government on her behalf, gathering petitions signed by hundreds across the country calling on lawmakers to help suspend her deportation.
Tony Stieritz, director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Social Action Office, released a statement praising the decision Wednesday, saying it “gives us a glimmer of hope that, someday soon, this family could be made whole again.”
“After so many months of unwarranted separation from her beloved family, we are thrilled that the Court has provided this window of possibility again for Maribel,” Stieritz said. “We reiterate our plea for mercy for Maribel, urging the Administration to consider her asylum case as well as the will of the community who wants to see Maribel’s family reunited.”
Her legal team said in a statement on Facebook that the ruling was “an important step toward bringing Maribel back to the United States to reunite with her family, including her four American children.”
Immigration officials detected Trujillo about a decade ago in a raid at her workplace, Koch Foods, a chicken-processing plant. Authorities nabbed nearly 200 undocumented workers. She applied for asylum, but in 2012 was denied. Trujillo Diaz testified that she feared for her safety in Mexico, but her appeals were dismissed in 2014, on the basis that she had not established a clear probability of persecution in Mexico because “her parents and two siblings ha[d] not been harmed by the gang,” according to court documents.
She received a final removal order, but at the discretion of immigration officials under the Obama administration, ICE allowed Trujillo to remain in the United States free from custody as long as she checked in with officials once a year. She was issued a work permit in July 2016 valid for one year.
Her lawyers filed a motion to reopen her case because of “changed circumstances” in her home country, citing the recent kidnapping of her father. But before her motion was considered, ICE officials detained Trujillo outside the home of her sister-in-law, just before Trujillo was heading to work. She was later deported to Mexico with no belongings, clothing, passport or other documents in her possession.
Bush, the Trump judicial nominee who wrote Wednesday’s opinion, faced criticism for blog posts in which he expressed controversial, conservative views, deriding same-sex marriage and equating abortion with slavery as America’s “greatest tragedies,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
In June, he responded to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the blog posts, which he had written under a pseudonym. Bush told the committee “my personal views are irrelevant to the position for which I have been nominated,” but said he wished he had worded some of the posts differently.
The state where Trujillo’s family lives, Michoacán, has a history of drug cartels, such as the infamous Knights Templar, which used to rule parts of the state, demanding extortion payments from businesses, farmers and workers.
Speaking over the phone to The Washington Post from Mexico in late April, Trujillo worried about saying too much, or revealing her exact location, in case drug cartels had tapped the line. She said that in the days since her deportation she had already received threats. She hardly ate and had trouble sleeping, fearing the risks to her and her family. More importantly, she said, she worried about her children back at home in Ohio.
Her son, Gustavo, who is about 10 years old, has high blood sugar and early signs of diabetes. Daniella, who is about 3, suffers epileptic seizures, she said in April. She needs medical attention, which only Maribel was trained to provide.
She worried about her husband, who is also undocumented and feared deportation, she said then.
“The pain of leaving my kids,” Trujillo said, her words trailing off. “I can’t explain what it’s like to be apart from them.”
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