Only through their stories can we truly understand the violence and abuse that these children and families are fleeing, the challenges they have faced in finding safety in the United States, their courage and resilience, and the positive impact of legal representation on their lives. All names have been changed.
Mario is a 17-year-old from Mexico. His father was an abusive alcoholic who brutally beat his family. When Mario was 7, his family escaped from his father and a year later his mother abandoned Mario, leaving him with his abusive sister. Mario fled to the United States as an unaccompanied minor in February 2015. With Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach's help, he obtained guardianship and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status findings in San Francisco Probate Court. He was granted lawful permanent residency in December 2015.
Central American Resource Center was successful in obtaining protection for Ella, a 17-year-old Guatemalan girl. Her father physically, verbally, and emotionally abused her throughout her life. She finally fled to the United States at the age of 17, and experienced tragic violence on that dangerous journey. Upon entry into the United States, Ella was detained for a month and a half before being released to her uncle who was able to serve as her guardian. She has now been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and permanent residence.
In July 2014, two young brothers, Walter and William, arrived in the office of Dolores Street Community Services seeking representation after receiving a notice to appear before an Immigration Judge in 10 days. They both had fled gang recruitment in Guatemala. Walter was strong enough to share his story before City Hall that summer, moving many Supervisors and the public to support SFILDC. DSCS attorneys worked diligently with the family here as well as family members still in Guatemala to document and corroborate the children's claim. Both brothers have now been granted asylum.
Carlos witnessed the beatings that his mother suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father. He was relieved when he and his mother moved away from him. In their new town Carlos met Tony, who became his closest friend. When they were teenagers, Tony moved in with Carlos and Carlos’ mother and stepfather. Carlos was happy because as an only child, he had never had a sibling. Carlos and Tony were inseparable. They went everywhere together until the morning Tony was discovered dead by the side of the road, having been murdered by his own brother, a member of the 18th Street gang. Carlos’ life was not the same after that. As his family cooperated in the prosecution of the murder, surveillance by gang members over Carlos’ home became constant and the family was afraid to come and go. Carlos stopped going to school because it was too dangerous and he didn’t want to be caught alone. Ultimately, Carlos and his stepfather fled their home country to escape harm. Carlos with the help of his attorney at The San Francisco Immigration Legal Defense Collaborative applied for asylum, and now he lives safely with his uncle in San Francisco where Carlos was granted asylum.
John, a 14 year old Salvadoran boy suffered extreme abuse and trauma before coming to the United States. John was conceived as a result of a violent rape and has never known his biological father. At the age of 10, a family member threw him out of the home and told him he did not belong there because he was not a blood relation. John was forced to live with an aunt who spent the money that John's mother sent from the United States on herself and her family. He was subjected to physical abuse by an older cousin and was sexually abused by a neighbor. John has been hospitalized four times in the last nine months for psychiatric and emergency medical care. The Immigration Center for Children and Women helped John obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and his application for his permanent residency is pending. He is currently receiving mental health services through a collaboration between social workers at his school, doctors at UCSF and case workers at Instituto Familiar de la Raza.
Jon and Rosa are fourteen year-old twins from El Salvador who were taken care of by their older siblings after their mother moved to the U.S. to find work. On their own, the Maras threatened them for going to church and beat up their older brothers. Jon managed to escape to the U.S. completely alone, without a single adult accompanying him on the treacherous journey. One of the older brothers also fled but was never heard from again. Several months later, Jon and Rosa's mother got another horrific call. Her eldest son had been murdered by the Maras while defending Rosa, who had been harassed by a gang member wanting to date her. When her brother stepped forward to defend Rosa, he was viciously murdered in front of his home with his wife and newborn baby present. Rosa fled El Salvador with the remaining siblings. With the help of La Raza Centro Legal, both twins have been granted asylum by the Asylum Office. The remaining adult siblings were initially detained and separated in Texas and Georgia, but have now been released and reunited with the rest of the family in San Francisco. La Raza Centro Legal now represents all of the remaining family members in their pending cases before the San Francisco Immigration Court.
Maria is an asylum seeker and a single mother of three young children. As part of an Alternatives to Detention program known as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Maria wore an ankle shackle for nearly eight months. In addition, she also complied with burdensome supervision requirements, involving weekly visits to San Francisco ICE and ISAP offices, telephonic monitoring and home visits. Yet, even after complying for so long, Maria's release from ankle monitoring was needlessly delayed for a month and a half more. Maria and her attorney at La Raza Community Resource Center made repeated requests and inquiries to ISAP and ICE officers to remove her ankle shackle to no avail. Her attorney was finally able to secure a meeting with her ICE Deportation Officer, where she was informed that Maria's release request was denied because Maria had allegedly missed a check-in appointment and a home visit. The next week, Maria and her attorney returned to ICE with proof that Maria had been to her check-in on the disputed day. Her attorney also convinced the ICE officer to check GPS data from the electronic ankle monitor to confirm that Maria had been at home on the day she was accused of missing a home visit. Her ankle monitor was finally removed later that day.
Legal Services for Children successfully represented Juana, a Guatemalan girl who entered United States when she was 16 years old. Juana had been severely abused by her father, who also forced her to work and forbid her from attending school once she turned 12 years old. LSC helped Juana obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Permanent Residency. Juana is now living with an older sibling in San Francisco and is in the 10th grade at a San Francisco high school. She is doing extremely well in her classes and is looking forward to her High School Diploma. LSC also helped Juana advocate with her family here to continue her education in face of pressure to work and give up on school.
Alma is a 16-year-old girl from El Salvador who was beaten up every week by her father. Sometimes he hit her so hard with his belt that her back started bleeding. Alma was able to escape her father’s abuse and come to the U.S., but she was put into deportation proceedings. Pangea Legal Services helped her apply for asylum and win her case. Ever since getting her papers, Alma has been able to focus better in school, and she has more time and energy to participate in her school’s soccer team.
The University of San Francisco's Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic represents Elio, 16-year old from Guatemala who lives with his older brother in San Francisco. Elio's father was murdered in Guatemala and his step-father was extremely abusive towards him; his mother would not separate from this man so he felt his only option was to leave the country, having no other family in Guatemala. With the help of USF, Elio received a state order and is in the process of applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and permanent residency.
Under the SFILDC grant, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) represents a tenacious young Guatemalan girl, who was abandoned by both parents in her home country by the time she was two. Raised by an elderly grandparent who was physically abusive, she had to cook, clean and care for her grandparent when she was only 10 years old. As her grandparent grew more infirm, the girl, afraid for her own survival, located her mother in a third country after 14 years without contact. The long-anticipated reunion did not go as planned, and the child was rejected a second time by her birth mother. With nowhere else to go, she fled to the United States where she remained in ORR custody for over four months while locating a family member to sponsor her. Finally she was placed with a relative in San Francisco, where she came into contact with SFILDC. KIND accepted her case and was able to obtain a legal guardianship for this minor and an SIJS predicate order. She is now on her way to securing permanent status in the U.S. She is grateful to be attending high school in San Francisco, where she receives all A’s and B’s. For the first time, this young girl is able to focus on a future with possibilities and opportunities for herself.