Via Harvard Review of Latin America
by Maggie Morgan and Deborah Anker

Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic.

Celebrating an asylum victory at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic.
Photo by Ina Spaho.

All Maribel had wanted was to work in a beauty salon in her home country of Honduras, maybe one day doing well enough to open a salon of her own. Hair and nails, or maybe just nails since manicures are her specialty. Maribel (not her real name; all names in this article have been changed to protect confidentiality) dreamt of using the money to put her five-year-old daughter in a good school, and finally move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own, far from the cramped room they shared in the two-room shack in the slums of Tegucigalpa.

But the beauty shop she was working in had to close abruptly after gang members threatened to come shoot up the place with the owner inside. The owner’s crime had been to refuse to pay a “war tax” to gang members who controlled her neighborhood.  Now forced to look for work, Maribel was assaulted by gang members at gunpoint on her way to job interviews. She went to the police but they just ignored her, not even going through the motions of making a report. Maribel, fearing for her life, felt she had no choice but to flee Honduras with her young daughter.

Several years later, sitting almost 4,000 miles away in a legal office, on a gray day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Maribel related her story to her attorney in preparation for her asylum hearing. She is one of many tens of thousands of Central American women and children who have fled to the United States since 2014, seeking safety from the unrelenting gang and gender-related violence roiling their home countries. Our attorneys and law students at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) represent Maribel and many clients with similar stories from this region.

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