Iris Rodriguez was 14 years old when her parents sent her away.
There was a civil war in Guatemala and soldiers were quartering in her home. When word spread that soldiers were forcing themselves on local girls, Iris’s parents sent her to live with a woman who worked for the government.
The woman had a 17-year-old son who treated Iris like his personal servant. Once, when she cooked something that displeased him, he grabbed her violently and raised his hand to strike her.
When Iris told the government woman what her son had done, she expected sympathy. Instead, she was told to not make him angry.
A few months later, as Iris did her homework, the 17-year-old barged into the store room where Iris slept and raped her.
“I was so scared I stayed up all night, crying,” she said in an affidavit. “There was a lot of blood on my dress.”
At daybreak, she threw her soiled clothes into a bag and fled to Guatemala City, where her sister lived. Her sister told her mother what happened, and her mother reported the rape to authorities.
But nothing happened. The rapist’s family was well-connected, and Iris was just a poor village girl.
Four years later, Iris was working as a domestic for a different family. She answered the doorbell one evening and was punched in the face. Her rapist had returned. He raped her again.
Weeks later, the morning sickness began. She had a difficult pregnancy and after her son was born she went back to her family’s home. Her mother took her to court, to file another report. Again, nothing happened. The rapist followed his mother into government work.
In 1993, Iris and her family gathered for a baptism. She walked outside and a pickup truck accelerated toward her. It was the man who raped her. She jumped out of the way, but the truck pinned her right leg against the house. He backed up and sped away.
After she got out of the hospital, Iris decided to leave the country, entrusting her son to family. She believed the man who raped her would not stop until he killed her. She made her way to Lynn, where her brother is a legal resident. She got a job and applied for asylum. She was denied asylum and ordered to return to Guatemala. To her, that was a death sentence.
For more than 20 years, she lived in the shadows and managed a laundromat. But her injured knee was getting worse and she wanted to resolve her undocumented status. In July, she contacted US officials, asking for a hearing. Instead, two weeks after she told them where she lived, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested her. She has been in custody for a month.
Her request for a hearing to make her case has been ignored. Her lawyers, Victor Maldonado and Dayanna Moreno, say ICE, in its rush to pump up its detention numbers, is purposely sitting on the paperwork as she sits in jail, her injured leg throbbing.
“This is vindictive. ICE mocked her for coming out of hiding,” Maldonado said. “Iris is exactly the kind of person who stays of removal are made for. She works, pays taxes, owns a home. And she was sexually assaulted by someone who is now a government official in the country they want her to return to. Where is the discretion? Where is the decency?”
Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesman, denied that the ICE official handling Rodriguez’s case is delaying the process.
Maldonado and Moreno say one of their clients who was detained weeks after Rodriguez already has a hearing scheduled. They said Rodriguez’s medical condition demands a prompt hearing.
“They can’t deport her right now,” Moreno said, “but they can make her sit in jail until they’re good and ready. This is pure spite.”
Iris Rodriguez, 45, needs knee surgery. Her right leg is grotesquely swollen.
That our government would treat someone like her like this is also grotesque.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.