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  • A woman who defected from North Korea went to the U.S. to seek asylum
  • A lawyer for the female North Korean urged ICE to dismiss her deportation proceedings
  • North Korea is executing anyone caught distributing South Korean media

A woman who defected from North Korea is seeking asylum in the U.S., but authorities are trying to deport her.

New York-based immigration news outlet Documented reported that the North Korean asylum seeker, who wished to be called "Usim," flew to Mexico from South Korea and crossed the U.S. southern border in the spring of 2021.

Despite Usim's situation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is still moving forward to deport her.

Michelle Doherty of the Brooklyn Defender Services, Usim's lawyer, told ICE that the female North Korean would be at risk of persecution if she got deported to South Korea.

Doherty requested ICE to dismiss Usim's deportation proceedings, citing a routine process called prosecutorial discretion.

According to ICE, prosecutorial discretion allows attorneys to dismiss some immigration and deportation cases. It also lets the lawyers "decide on which cases to focus their finite resources."

However, ICE rejected Doherty's plea, telling her they are "declining to exercise its prosecutorial discretion in this case," according to an email from December 2022.

Doherty then requested ICE for a supervisory review, but an immigration supervisor only upheld the agency's initial decision regarding Usim's case.

"I believe that we presented an extremely compelling argument as to why DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) should agree to dismiss her removal proceedings, given everything that she has suffered through," Doherty said.

Usim escaped North Korea after her sister was charged with the crime of owning a cassette disk (CD) full of South Korean and American TV dramas — deemed "propaganda" in the socialist state.

Other family relatives of Usim were also arrested by North Korean authorities and sent to forced labor camps.

The ordeal faced by Usim's family is common in North Korea.

Al Jazeera cited a report by South Korea's Unification Ministry that North Koreans caught distributing South Korean videos and other materials could face executions.

"Executions are widely carried out for acts that do not justify the death penalty, including drug crimes, distribution of South Korean videos, and religious and superstitious activities," the South Korean Unification Ministry said.

"North Korean citizens' right to life appears to be greatly threatened," the South Korean ministry added.

In 2021, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un imposed tougher punishments for those caught enjoying South Korean entertainment, according to Reuters.

Under the new "anti-reactionary thought" law, North Korean parents whose children violate the law would face fines. At the same time, individuals caught owning or distributing South Korean media could face up to 15 years in a prison camp.

Meanwhile, anyone caught importing South Korean media would face a life sentence, while those importing large amounts of media from the U.S. and Japan could face the death penalty.

A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur