Debevoise Secures Asylum for a Member of an Indigenous Mayan Community

3 August 2023

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has secured asylum for a client, Mr. A., an indigenous Mayan man who fled his home country in Central America because he was being persecuted due to his indigenous race and a long-running dispute over indigenous Mayan land rights. Debevoise began representing him and his then 10 year old son in 2018, pro bono, when they were forcibly separated at the border in Texas.

Mr. A. is part of a group of men from a Mayan indigenous community that hold collective title to a parcel of land that is the subject of a long-running dispute. The legal land title was granted to the community as a collective patrimony in the late 1990s. Over the years, a foreign businessman sought to expand his business in the region and assert control over the community’s land. Through bribery and corruption, the businessman and his partners managed to develop close relationships with the local military commission and other local officials who worked at their direction.

After Mr. A. suffered continuous persecution, threats and violence against him, he fled his home country in 2018 along with his son, leaving behind his wife and three younger children. In November 2018, Mr. A. and his son crossed the Rio Grande and entered Texas. Shortly after crossing the border, they were taken into custody and put in immigration detention. A few days later, Mr. A. was illegally separated from his son and placed in detention in Port Isabel, Texas. Mr. A.’s son was designated an “unaccompanied minor,” and flown to New York City where he was placed in foster care. After months of work, the Debevoise team got a bond hearing for Mr. A before an immigration judge at the Port Isabel detention center, and successfully argued that Mr. A. had been illegally separated from his son, and should be released on bond. Mr. A. was released on bond on April 22, 2019.

Soon after reuniting father and son, the Debevoise team began working on their asylum applications. On July 26, the Debevoise team secured asylum for Mr. A. The team successfully argued that Mr. A. should be granted asylum because he has suffered past persecution on account of his indigenous race and his membership in a particular social group—an indigenous Mayan with an inalienable, vested interest in the land of the community. The team also filed derivative and defensive asylum claims for Mr. A.’s son.

The Debevoise team was led by counsel Sarah Wolf and litigation associates Rebecca UrquiolaSol Czerwonko and Jane Chung. The team also included litigation associates Nestor Almeida, Adrian Gonzalez, Naomi Perla, Anna Rennich, and case manager Heather Mehler, as well as former litigation associates Marisa Taney, David Menon, Elena Rodriguez, and Thomas Lopez with continuous support by Jennifer Cowan.