In the summer of 2014, at age 16, Yosselin Herrera came to the United States by walking and taking buses, an undocumented, unaccompanied minor fleeing gang violence in her native El Salvador to join her family in North Carolina.
She settled in with her mother, stepfather and siblings in Siler City outside of Raleigh, learned English and became a high school honors student. But now, Herrera is fighting a deportation order and seeking asylum to avoid a forcible return to a country where she said she was raped by gang members.
“I want to be able to follow my dream, and be with my family,” she said. “I have to wake up every morning scared that I’m going to be deported some day.”
Returning to El Salvador, she said, could be a death sentence.
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Herrera got some good news Tuesday during a brief preliminary hearing on her deportation case in U.S. Immigration Court in Charlotte. The case was postponed until Nov. 1, which allows her time to pursue a parallel asylum application at a federal administrative hearing in Virginia, said her attorney, Evelyn Smallwood of Durham.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is supporting Herrera, holding up her case as an example of the fight for social justice.
Her case also comes at a time when immigration has been thrust into the national spotlight following President Donald Trump’s executive order to suspend entry to the United States for all refugees for 120 days as well as barring entry for 90 days for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
In a statement, state NAACP President the Rev. William Barber said, “Supporting our Latino and immigrant brothers and sisters, the targets of a race-based extremist agenda and rhetoric, is of utmost important to all people of good will.”
Ana Blackburn, the state NAACP’s Latino liaison, said ripping children away from their families is no way to handle immigration reform. “It is uncivilized.
“Diversity is what makes America great again,” Blackburn said, referring to Trump’s campaign theme. “Standing up for justice, that’s what makes America great again.”
Like the NAACP, Chatham County commissioners and the Siler City town council also passed resolutions supporting Herrera’s asylum petition. Siler City is about two hours northeast of Charlotte.
There is no date set for the asylum hearing. If Herrera is granted asylum, the deportation case will become moot, Smallwood said. If the asylum hearing is not held by the time of the next deportation hearing, Smallwood said she would seek another continuance of that case.
Eddie Marshall, Herrera’s stepfather, remains optimistic about her chances to stay in the United States. She is in 11th grade in a Chatham County high school, and hopes to one day be a forensic scientist.
“It’s hard to think about the things she went through” in El Salvador, Marshall said quietly. “I promised her when she got here I wouldn’t let anything happen to her. That’s my daughter.”
They hugged each other before the deportation hearing. Herrera wiped tears away. After the brief session, with the delay in hand, they embraced again as Herrera smiled at the crowd around her.