Young Mexican police chief seeks US asylum

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — 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, who was 20 when she was hired last October, made international headlines when she accepted the top law enforcement job in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a township near the Texas border overrun 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 from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no-man’s-land only about a mile from the Texas border. Between 1995 and 2005, it had a steady population of about 8,500 inhabitants. Five years later, slightly more than 4,500 people live there. 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 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 five-day leave of absence starting March 2 to travel to the U.S. to tend to personal matters, and that she never returned.

Garcia was fired on Monday, accused of abandoning her post. Police will answer to the mayor until a new chief is appointed, the city government said in a statement.

Garcia was 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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