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Federal Appeals Court Considers How Far Due Process Rights Extend For Asylum Seeker

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A federal appeals court is deciding whether an asylum seeker previously detained at the Strafford County Department of Corrections in Dover was denied her due process rights during immigration proceedings, a claim made by her attorneys at the ACLU of New Hampshire.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that centers on Karen Elizabeth Rivera-Medrano, 20, who fled El Salvador, where she alleges she was the victim of sexual assault by her step-father, and that he forced her to deliver drugs on his behalf.

In 2018, Rivera-Medrano was denied asylum after turning herself into authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border, and was returned to El Salvador. In 2019, she again attempted to enter the United States, where she turned herself into customs agents.

During an asylum hearing before an immigration judge in Boston later that year, lawyers for the government introduced evidence during cross-examination that raised claims of inconsistencies about Rivera-Medrano’s statements regarding her sexual assaults.

That prompted the ACLU to file an appeal with the First Circuit Court, alleging her due process rights were violated because she wasn’t given the chance to review the evidence prior to her hearing.

During oral arguments Tuesday, ACLU attorney SangYeob Kim told justices that non-citizens including asylum seekers are entitled to due process protections including sharing of evidence, and “that reasonable opportunity never came” for Rivera-Medrano.

But Greg Mack with the U.S. Department of Justice told the three-judge panel that the government followed the law and that it isn’t required to share what’s known as impeachment evidence — which is used to discredit witnesses — with asylum seekers in advance of hearings.

“The due process clause does not require a perfect proceeding,” Mack told the court. “It requires a process that is full and fundamentally fair to the non-citizen. And that is what the petitioner received here.”

The ACLU is asking the court to hold a new asylum hearing for Rivera-Medrano, who has been released on bond.