Pierina Flores had no intention of leaving Venezuela. She was managing the business that had been passed down through her family, political unrest had made it increasingly difficult, but this was nothing compared to starting over somewhere else. But when supporters of Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro seized that family business and most of her assets, she no longer had a choice about starting over. Like many others who have fled the South American country after its government has grown increasingly authoritarian, she looked to the United States as a beacon of hope and safety.
Her boyfriend was able to obtain a tourist visa and travel to the US through Miami. There he immediately asked for political asylum, and his case is pending. Pierina, however, was denied a tourist visa. Of the ways she could immigrate to the US, asylum was the only realistic option. There was no employer in the US able to bring her here with a lucrative job offer, she had no family in the United States, and the visa lottery is not a solution for someone fleeing oppression. Asylum is a legal process open to non-citizens present in the United States who are afraid to return to their home country. She knew her only way to get to the US would be to approach the southern border and ask for asylum. She traveled to Ciudad Juarez to attempt a border crossing into El Paso, TX.
When Pierina arrived at the border, she attempted to cross the bridge into Texas but was stopped. She asked US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to seek political asylum in the United States. In accord with the then-new “Remain in Mexico” policy, CBP denied her the chance to enter the US and wait for her turn to prove her case before a judge. Instead, she was forced to stay in Juarez, a dangerous city where she had no family, friends, employment prospects, or the possibility of getting legal help. She soon found a restaurant job, but the owner demanded sexual favors, and she quit. When her money ran out, and she was forced to live in an overcrowded shelter just as the COVID-19 virus began spreading. Months passed. Her desperation grew as she waited for her turn to ask an immigration judge to grant her asylum.
Unable to sit and wait, day after day, she formed a new plan. She would climb the border wall, find her partner (who had been allowed to wait his turn in the US), and pursue her asylum claim in safety.
In the middle of an August night, Pierina climbed a 25-foot portion of the wall near El Paso. Instead of crossing as intended, she lost her grip and fell into the United States. Pierina survived but suffered a closed-head injury and broke multiple bones. CBP agents found her and got her to a hospital in the United States. Now, released from immigration custody and reunited with her partner in the Detroit area. She is now on the mend and has been given a chance to ask for asylum.
Pierina and her boyfriend found us at our Pontiac Legal Clinic. When we heard her story, we agreed to take her case and help this couple present their cases in immigration court. Pierina faces enormous physical challenges since her accident, and we are accommodating her as best we can. We are also connecting her to partners who can assist her with her physical needs and emotional support.
Thanks to the support of the Oakland County Bar Foundation and First Presbyterian Church of Pontiac, our staff and volunteers provide legal help to everyone who comes to us at the Pontiac Legal Clinic. But when we go to court with our clients, we do so because of support received from individual donors who believe, as we do, that no one should have to go before an immigration judge without legal help.
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