EL PASO, Texas – A young woman who received death threats after recently becoming police chief of a violence-plagued Mexican town is in the U.S and seeking asylum, Mexican and U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Marisol Valles Garcia, 20, made international headlines when she accepted the top law enforcement job in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a township near the Texas border that has been overcome by drug violence. Her predecessor was shot to death in July 2009.
Garcia is now in the U.S. and will be allowed to present her case to an immigration judge, according to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The town is in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where ombudsman Gustavo de la Rosa confirmed that Garcia was in the U.S. and said she has initiated a formal asylum petition.
Neither ICE nor De la Rosa would say where Garcia was staying, citing privacy and security concerns.
Drug violence has transformed the township of about 8,500 people from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no man's land only about a mile from the Texas border. Two rival gangs — the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels — are battling over control of its single highway, a lucrative drug-trafficking route along the Texas border.
Residents have said Garcia had received death threats, and the ombudsman said there may have been at least one attempt to kidnap her. Local officials said they had given her a leave of absence from March 2 through March 7 to travel to the U.S. to tend to personal matters, but she never returned.
Garcia was officially fired Monday for apparently abandoning her post. Police will answer to the mayor until a new chief is appointed, the city government's statement said.
Garcia was still a criminology student when she accepted the job in October to oversee 12 police officers. At the time, she said she wanted them to go door-to-door looking for criminals and teaching values to the families.
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