August 22, 2019

America's Most Unrelenting Immigration Judge

“In February 2018, in a small courtroom in rural Louisiana, an Eritrean man was fighting an impossible battle. The man, whom I’ll call Abraham—he asked that his real name not be used—was trying to convince immigration judge Agnelis Reese that he should receive asylum in the United States. He told Reese he had been imprisoned for 12 years in Eritrea for refusing to complete his military service, and tortured—not only beaten but sexually assaulted. “What do you mean?” Reese asked.

Abraham, who did not have a lawyer, told Reese he was too ashamed to share what he had been through. She pressed him. “I’m not trying to force you,” she said, according to a transcript of the hearing, “but this type of harm would be important to your case.” With his future at stake, Abraham explained how two Eritrean prison guards had covered his nose with plastic before at least one of them put his penis in Abraham’s mouth, at which point he passed out. “Did they do anything else that was sexual molestation?” Reese asked.

“They also inserted a stick in my bottom,” Abraham said. Reluctantly, he recalled being sodomized at least three times in a bloodstained room “intended for suffering.”

When Abraham mentioned that he was a Pentecostal Christian and that his status as a religious minority had contributed to his mistreatment in Eritrea, Reese pounced. During an initial interview with an American asylum officer, Abraham had not mentioned being sexually assaulted. “When you lied to the asylum officers or failed to disclose your sexual abuse,” Reese asked, “what do you think Jesus thought about that?””

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