No Sanctuary

Long delays in processing asylum claims leave Guatemalans in a bind

Cruz, Ramirez's attorney, is preparing for an appearance before an immigration judge, which has not yet been scheduled. Cruz says that hearing will give him more opportunities to explain and present evidence than at the preliminary hearing at the asylum office. He's not very optimistic, though.

"It's still very difficult, because what everybody's saying right now is that the circumstances have changed, that there haven't been many politically motivated killings in Guatemala lately," Cruz says. "But he came when he was 16—now he's 40 years old."

Cruz is also representing a Guatemalan woman who's been here since 1990. She was recently denied residency under a law passed in 1997 that offered immigration benefits to people seeking asylum from various Central American countries. Cruz says she was turned down because the government lost a key document that her former attorney had filed soon after she arrived. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn't comment on specific cases, but Cruz says he's in the midst of preliminary hearings in her case.

Meanwhile, Ramirez, who's temporarily broadcasting at Radio Jubileo in Florida, says he plans to return to Dallas next month. He's determined to stay in the United States. "I'm continuing to appeal," he says. "What injustice—after all this time they reject my asylum. How many years have I been here working for this country, working for my community? I'm not a burden for the city. I'm a productive member of society."

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