A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit brought by a Honduran mother who says she was repeatedly raped and impregnated for years by an immigration agent who threatened to get her deported if she didn’t obey him.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the woman’s seven-year ordeal in which she was raped up to four times a week was so extraordinary that a Connecticut judge erred when she dismissed the lawsuit last year after concluding it wasn’t filed within the required three years after the attacks occurred.
The 2018 lawsuit in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, sought $10 million in damages for trauma from 2007 to 2014. It named as defendants Wilfredo Rodriguez, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, ICE, the Department of Homeland Security and two senior DHS officials.
The 2nd Circuit said that the four years that the woman waited to file a lawsuit was reasonable in part because Rodriguez allegedly told her shortly after raping her a final time that he would kill her if she spoke about her ordeal.
“Sexual abuse perpetrated by an ICE agent against an undocumented immigrant may give the assailant’s threats a similarly immobilizing effect as those of a prison official against someone in their custody,” the 2nd Circuit said.
The appeals court said that the woman, identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, “testified that Rodriguez violently raped her on a regular basis for a period of seven years, scarred her with acts of physical violence, treated her like his ‘slave,’ and threatened to further harm and even kill her.”
It added: “Three times during the course of Rodriguez’s abuse, Doe attempted suicide, and three times she terminated a pregnancy caused by his rapes. And even if these circumstances alone were not enough to impede Doe from coming forward, there was also the fact that Doe was an undocumented immigrant while Rodriguez was a government official with the power to hasten the deportation of her and her family members.”
The woman filed her lawsuit four years after Rodriguez left ICE, after which no more contact with the woman occurred, the appeals court said.
The woman disclosed the attacks to authorities only after an ICE agent in spring 2018 telephoned her to speak about her father’s application for asylum, the 2nd Circuit said.
According to the court, the woman told the agent that her community learned that she was serving as an informant for U.S. authorities when she refused to perform a sex act on Rodriguez inside an ICE van one day and he retaliated by opening the door and exposing her to a crowd of people who saw she was a cooperator.
The agent told her to get a lawyer, which she did, leading to the lawsuit, the appeals court said.
“As she tells it, Doe was stuck choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea — one course risking her life, the other risking her father’s,” the court said in a decision written by Judge Alison J. Nathan.
“In this light, we cannot say that a reasonable district court judge engaging in fact-finding could only conclude that Doe’s fear of retaliation was illusory or surmountable all along simply because she eventually managed to tell her story when circumstances changed,” Nathan wrote.
The woman said the assaults began after she was told there was an order of deportation against her, and Rodriguez offered her a chance to remain in the country if she provided information about other Hondurans who were in the U.S. illegally, the court said.
After starting the work, Rodriguez in January 2007 asked her to meet him at a motel, where he demanded sex, she testified. When she protested that she was married, he kept a firearm at her ribs as he raped her, the 2nd Circuit said.
Christina Sterling, a spokesperson for lawyers representing the government, declined comment.
A lawyer for Rodriguez did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Attorney George Kramer, who represents the woman, said he had expected to win the appeal, particularly after Rodriguez pleaded the Fifth Amendment when he was questioned.
He said his client’s information had led to the capture of hundreds of individuals in the U.S. illegally.
Married with two grown children, she has moved repeatedly to protect herself, though she remains in Connecticut, he said.
His client, he added, remains traumatized.
“You never get over it. She’s not in good shape,” Kramer said.