Ricardo Lopez did not intend to become a revolutionary. Born in Nicaragua to a farming family, he became a farmer as well. Life is not easy for farmers in Nicaragua. It’s hard work, but the government has been making it even more challenging in recent years. The government is effectively a monopoly; being the only buyer of produce from farmers means that they can also set prices.
Recent years have been challenging, and the government has been paying farmers less and less for what they produce. In talking to other farmers, Ricardo was asked to go to a protest. Being a naturally charismatic person and being affected very personally by this issue, he discovered that he had something to say about the Nicaraguan government’s practices with farmers. Over time he was identified as a leader in this protest movement, and that’s when he earned the government’s attention.
At first, there were threats and minor harassment. Things changed when Ricardo received a notice to appear at the national guard office… on a Saturday morning. Others summoned to this office on Saturdays, when it is not normally open, did not return to their homes. Fearing a fate that could include imprisonment and possibly torture, Ricardo quickly made plans to escape.
Fortunately, he had a current valid tourist visa to come to the United States. He made plans to sneak out of the country and fly to the United States. His ultimate goal was to join family in Canada. Ricardo’s journey in the United States started in Texas, where he had a friend. He later spoke to a lawyer in Canada who suggested he travel to Windsor to begin the asylum process. Ricardo took a bus to Detroit and traveled through the tunnel to Windsor, planning to meet the lawyer, who unfortunately never showed up.
Ricardo didn’t have a visa to enter Canada and was sent to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. They learned that Ricardo wasn’t actually a tourist in the United States but instead came here to seek asylum. The government canceled his visitor’s visa; he was put in prison and scheduled for a removal hearing in Immigration Court.
While he was in detention, someone gave him the number for the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center. He was one of many calls we receive each week asking for help. As much as possible, we try to say yes. In Ricardo’s case, we had enough resources available to help.
He had a good asylum claim. His government perpetrated his persecution, and he had a clear fear of returning to his home country. Many that he knew back home had suffered greatly for their political views. As it turns out, he also had enough evidence to convince an immigration judge that he qualified to receive asylum in the United States.
In mid-April, we got the news and immediately made the best kind of phone call: telling Ricardo that was safe in the United States.
There’s more to this case. With asylum granted, we can petition for some of Ricardo’s family to join him in the United States. And, next year, we’ll help him apply for a green card and eventually citizenship when the time comes.
Almost every client who comes to us is seeking to live a life without fear. For Ricardo, the decision to flee Nicaragua quite literally may have saved his life. And now, thanks to the judge’s order, he has real hope for tomorrow.
We want all of our clients to have this same hope for tomorrow.
The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center provides free and low-cost legal services to those who need them most in the Detroit area, with a focus on recent immigrants and refugees.
We were founded in 2014 by Kevin Piecuch, our Executive Director