MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) - An MS-13 gang member left eight voicemails on Brenda Mendez’s cellphone demanding that she turn over her teenage boy. If she refused, he said, the gang would dismember both her sons.
“I’m going to send you a finger from each hand. You are going to see what the (expletive) happens to your son,” one message said. “Show up or you’re dead. We know about Little Gustavo and also about your baby boy. What the (expletive)? You want him turned into pieces too?”
The family soon fled Guatemala with hopes of getting into the United States, being careful to bring along the voicemails and a copy of the police report Mendez filed against the gang member known as El Gato.
Other migrants are doing the same. As the Trump administration puts up more legal barriers for asylum-seekers, some immigrants take steps to arrive at the border with evidence to show U.S. authorities the dangers they are trying to escape. The documents are often carried inside protective folders, and they are sometimes all that the migrants bring with them, except for the clothes on their backs.
On July 1, the Mendez family waited on the Mexican side of the international bridge to Brownsville, Texas. Even with their evidence, they seemed to face long odds after Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month removed gang and domestic violence from the conditions that qualify for asylum.
Mendez was undeterred. She knew she might be separated from her husband and her sons, ages 9 and 14, and that they could be held in detention. The four would have to navigate a foreign legal system in a foreign language.
But “if it saves my children’s lives, I don’t mind,” she said flatly in Spanish as she rifled through a sturdy plastic folder her husband, David, had safeguarded in a small pack containing birth certificates, proof of home ownership and the police report during the journey of more than 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers).
With a sad smile, she played for The Associated Press the voicemails left on the Guatemalan cellphone she mostly kept off to conserve the battery.
To bolster their asylum cases, immigrants bring audio recordings, crime-scene photos, police paperwork and even medical examiner records - anything that will support their claims that home is too dangerous. They carry these grim records across deserts and rivers, sometimes for months or years, because they could mean the difference between a lifetime of safety in the U.S. or swift deportation....The evidence is critical for so-called credible-fear interviews, which test asylum seekers’ reasons for fleeing to the U.S., specifically their claims to be victims of persecution. The interviews, conducted by immigration officers from the Department of Homeland Security, are the first screening in the long asylum process.Mamadou Aliou Barry, 17, described a three-year odyssey, by boat, by bus and on foot, from his native Guinea in West Africa to the bridge