In a significant legal victory, a federal judge has ordered the release of Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez, a Salvadoran lesbian mother who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody since June 2017. Barahona-Martinez’s detention had garnered attention due to the circumstances surrounding her entry into the United States.
Seeking Asylum Amid Persecution
Barahona-Martinez, along with her three children, arrived in the U.S. on May 31, 2016, seeking refuge from persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian. Additionally, she had been falsely identified as a gang member by the Salvadoran government. She had initially found a safe haven with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Virginia, until her arrest by ICE on June 26, 2017.
Prolonged Detention and Legal Battle
Following her arrest, Barahona-Martinez endured detention at two ICE facilities in Virginia before her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, operated by the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, in Basile, Louisiana, in October 2020. It was here that her legal battle to secure her release gained momentum.
Despite having been granted asylum for the second time by an immigration judge in November 2019, the government appealed the decision, leading to a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals in their favor. This protracted legal process further prolonged Barahona-Martinez’s detention.
ACLU’s Successful Petition
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Louisiana took up Barahona-Martinez’s case, filing a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division. Their petition, filed last month, sought her release on the grounds that her prolonged detention violated due process.
On September 27, U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty ruled in favor of Barahona-Martinez. In his decision, Judge Doughty noted that “petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process.”
Following this ruling, ICE released Barahona-Martinez, reuniting her with her children and sister in Virginia. The legal victory serves as a testament to the ongoing advocacy for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals seeking asylum in the United States.
This case highlights the complex challenges faced by LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, shedding light on the need for comprehensive immigration reform and improved protections for vulnerable individuals within the immigration system.