Her husband was murdered in front of her eyes.
Then they shot her.
She went to the police, testified against the killers, and watched as they were convicted and sentenced to prison.
And then the threats started, against her mother and father, her grandparents, her children.
In Honduras, naming your persecutor, even one who is in solitary confinement, can be a death sentence.
So, she gathered one child, left the others with relatives, and crossed borders under the fire of a Central American sun and came to America. She was one of thousands who fled Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala in 2014 to seek safe harbor.
This week, a judge finally gave it to her, with a simply worded order saying, “Granted.”
I’ve been practicing immigration law for more than 20 years, and I should be fairly stoic about these things. I have seen this case many times before, in different shades and shapes and languages, and my ability to detect fact and fiction is pretty well developed by now. I’m not naive enough to believe every sad story is the truth, even though each life story is a mix of lies and reality when told to someone who holds the power of life and death over you.
But this case was necessary for me, or, rather, winning this case was important.
It’s not because the woman was more deserving than others I’ve met over two decades, although she was more deserving than many.
It’s not because she was a woman from a country that kills women and I’m tired of American ladies with their #MeToo cries of abuse. (Try crawling on your knees across a hot desert to escape your husband’s killer and then we can talk about cultural reckonings.)
It’s not even because I’ve lost some cases I desperately hoped to win because the timing and the law were not on our side.
The reason the word granted brought me to my knees in impromptu prayer and gratitude was the fact that even in the face of an immigration system that has become increasingly draconian and unforgiving of human pain, well documented in the recent series published by this paper and ProPublica, I saw a window of opportunity for the future.
I say opportunity, not hope. Hope is a poetic concept, fragile and lovely. I prefer the word opportunity, because it gives me a chance to explain to myself and others why, even with the dark turn our recent discourse has taken against immigration, we can show that the fundamental values that undergird our American system are constant.
Yes, we go through waves of doubt and suspicion, of anger and recrimination, of legitimate fear and illegitimate scapegoating. This will always be the case.
We are Americans. We are not a heavenly host of angels with our halos situated perfectly on our heads. Our default position is to be wary of the stranger in our midst, even though so many just like us were the strangers just a generation or two ago. It’s human and normal, and the people who want to call that bigotry are bigots themselves.
Americans have a right to cherish the things that make us who we are, and secure borders are a part of that.
But, as Americans, we must also rise above and force ourselves to see the value in that stranger, and welcome his or her expressed desire to become one of us.
We don’t need or want criminals. We must crush the terrorists. We should reject those who show no love for this country by violating her laws and undermining her internal integrity. And Donald Trump was not wrong to acknowledge there are “bad hombres.” It’s not eloquent, but it’s accurate.
Those who conflate crossing a border out of desperation with cartels and thieves, and those who think its righteous to take a father from a family he’s been supporting for two decades without giving him a chance to fight for the right to stay, and especially those who think that a widow who took seriously our historic promise of safe haven, should be lumped in with “illegals” are not my people.
I grew up in a different America. I think I saw a glimpse of that country when I got that paper that read, “Asylum is granted.”