Asylum is one of the few mechanisms for people who enter the U.S. illegally to obtain legal status in our country, and many asylum seekers risk the difficult journey from their home countries, through South America, Central America, and Mexico, and into the United States. The trip is dangerous for everyone, but women face particular hardships.
A recent report from the Immigration Policy Center by Kavitha Sreeharsha notes that “70% of women who cross without spouses or other [family members] are sexually assaulted during the border crossing.” “Advocates report that women are encouraged to take birth control pills before traveling across the border in anticipation of the sexual assault.” Probably as a result of this danger, the ratio of female to male asylum seekers who enter the country at the Southern border is very low (according to DHS, only about 17% of people apprehended at the U.S./Mexican border are female).
In my own practice, I regularly see asylum seekers who have traveled from Africa and crossed into the United States illegally. Some have been apprehended at the border and later released; others have avoided capture. It’s very rare for me to see female asylum seekers who entered the United States in this manner. In fact, I can only think of one woman client who crossed the border without inspection. She traveled from Africa to South America and then to Central America and Mexico. She met different smugglers in each country. Sometimes, she traveled with other Africans, but other times, she was alone. She made the journey with no particular problems and then she crossed the Rio Grande River with a few dozen migrants. Once she was in the United States, the smugglers separated her and another woman (and that woman’s small children), and locked them in a house. The smugglers raped my client. After some days, she escaped and contacted the police. The smugglers were never captured.
My client’s story illustrates the danger faced by women traveling alone along the smuggling route. Of course, we hope that the countries where these smugglers operate will crack down on the practice, but such reforms seem a long way off in most places. The story also illustrates the risks people will take to escape their problems and seek a better life in our country. To paraphrase the old idiom: immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.