Political Asylum a Fleeing Dream for Many

Political Asylum a Fleeing Dream for Many

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Tonya Papanikolas ReportingWhile it's estimated that tens of thousands of illegal immigrants live in Utah, many others are going through the necessary process to stay here legally. But for many people seeking political asylum, whether they follow the rules or not, their American dream is fading away.

A large "for sale" sign sits outside Sergio and Esther Rangel's home, another at Sergio's business. It's obvious the family is planning to move, but they don't actually want to leave.

Esther Rangel, Being Deported: “This is the worst situation in my life. I never imagined that these things would happen to us.”

The Rangels are being deported, five and a half years after fleeing Colombia.

Esther Rangel: “All my hopes was in this country."

The couple left their home after insurgents from the terrorist group FARC tried to kidnap Sergio at his car dealership. They were likely after ransom money.

Sergio Rangel, Being Deported: “Six guys with guns and hand grenades go into my place. I just fight with the guys, and running away."

Sergio was able to escape, but the threats didn't end.

Sergio Rangel: “I received so many phone calls, I just gonna kill you because you escape."

Hoping to save his family's life, Sergio moved to Utah where Esther had family.

Esther Rangel, Fled Colombia: “Here I can go to the supermarket, I can go to the park, to eat ice cream, to the movies. It’s like normal. In Colombia it’s impossible.”

The Rangels have three children, all of them born here. Sergio and Esther applied for political asylum thinking they'd be able to prove they feared for their lives in Colombia. But they were denied on the basis that Sergio's father still lived in the country.

Hakeem Ishola, Rangels' Immigration Attorney: “So they said, ‘Why can’t you go back? Because if they’re gonna harm you, they’re gonna harm your relatives too.’”

Chances of receiving asylum in the U.S. are low and getting lower. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in 2001 asylum officers approved 43-percent of applicants. The next year, the number dropped to 36-percent. And in 2003, asylum officers approved 29-percent of cases nationwide. In Utah the same year, asylum officers approved only 14-percent of cases, making it difficult for immigration lawyers.

Scott Benson, Catholic Community Services Immigration Attorney: “One of the types of legal cases where there’s not a very good shot at success.”

The Rangel's immigration attorney helped them appeal their denial to an immigration judge, which is often a second chance. But the judge upheld the denial.

Hakeem Ishola: “We see a lot of people get denied when we strongly believe that they should have been granted the relief sought."

But an immigration officer says the system's as fair as it can be.

Allan Speirs, Utah Citizenship and Immigration Officer: “It’s not something that’s a snap judgment. They go through a long process. They get the, they do get the second chance if the asylum officer goes against them.”

The Rangels took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, but were again denied. They must now leave the country by March 1st. The family is looking into options in Canada, but even if they can cross the border, they'll have to start all over again. And they love the life they built here.

Sergio Rangel: “She's in the first grade, and she love her school, you know. This is her country, you know."

Esther Rangel: “I feel like I don't have more power for follow."

The Rangels say they're hoping for a miracle, one they know is not very likely. The family's deportation was originally set for this summer. Senator Hatch's office was able to intervene and get that date extended.

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