Celebrating International Women’s Day


HRI Female Staff Members. Back Row Left to Right: Kavita Khandekar Chopra, Carolina Pina, Pilar Ferguson, Elisandra De La Cruz, Marisa Arancibia. Front Row Left to Right: Zeyla Gonzalez, Marcela Evans, Elean Martinez, Kristina Morales, Sara Wahl

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day! “International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women (source).” As Deputy Director of a 92% female staff, I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this day than with all of my amazing coworkers (pictured above).

Each and every member of our staff pours their hearts and minds into the great work we do here. As our Client Intake Manager, Elean is the first person all of our clients meet when they come to HRI for the first time. She knows how difficult it can be to ask for help, and does everything she can to make our clients feel comfortable, relaxed, and welcome in our office.

Our attorneys, Marcela, Pilar, and Sara, combine their sharp legal know-how with compassion and respect, ensuring our clients receive excellent and professional legal representation in their case for immigration relief. I am especially in awe of Carol Jablonski, our Volunteer Staff Attorney, who spends two days a week working at HRI on a pro bono basis. We could not ask for a better Legal Team.

Our legal assistants, Kristina, Zeyla and Carolina, work hard to stay ahead of work authorization deadlines to ensure our clients do not have a gap in their work pay. And when the time comes, they help clients with their application for their green card, ensuring their permanent residency in the United States. These three women keep our legal programs functioning at a high level because of their dedication to this work.

In Social Services, Zainab and Elisandra, work together to ensure HRI’s clients are able to access necessary and beneficial social services. Zainab’s and Elisandra’s tireless advocacy for our clients has resulted in a multitude of new partnerships across the North Texas area. And this Winter/Spring, the Program has hosted Madeleine, a wonderful intern from the University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service.

Marisa, our Marketing & Special Events Coordinator, uses her passion for human rights and her writing skills to keep our community informed of our work. She shares our success stories and organizes our exceptional events, like our 5K coming up on April 28!! 

And I can’t forget Bill, our intrepid Executive Director. While he is not a woman, he is a man who displays nothing but respect for the females in his life, from his wife to his co-workers. I could not ask for a better boss.

International Women’s Day also makes me pause to reflect upon the incredibly women we serve at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI).

Every day at HRI I see strong, resilient, powerful immigrant women who risk everything for their safety and the safety of their children. Women like Leyla, a Sudanese immigrant who left her husband and life behind to protect her daughters from the brutality of female genital mutilation. FGM is a very real, very prevalent non-medical procedure that is forced upon more than 200 Million women today. The effects of FGM can last for a lifetime, making sex, childbirth and day-to-day life painful.  Simply by being able to keep her young daughters in the United States and away from their father, Leyla ensured their lives would not be harmed in this way and they would not have to endure this barbaric procedure. She in turn, sacrificed everything she had to make this happen.

Or I think of women like Mariah, a young undocumented Mexican immigrant who was stuck in an abusive marriage to a United States citizen. Mariah courageously made the decision to leave when she realized her young daughter would be affected by the abuse she endured. She left without knowing if her immigration status would protect her and allow her to stay with her daughter in the United States. But she knew it was the only option she had if she wanted to be in her daughter’s life for years to come. So she took the chance.


Leyla and Mariah not only display the incredible resilience that resides in all women, but their stories also remind us of the importance of intersectionality. In order to truly protect the rights and dignity of all women, we must also protect the rights and dignity of marginalized, disenfranchised and oppressed communities. This includes immigrant women, Black women, Latina women, incarcerated women, lgbt women, women with disabilities, women from low socio-economic status, and so many more.

Leyla and Mariah made the brave choice to leave everything they have ever known in order to protect themselves and their children. These women had the courage to make a leap of faith, not knowing what would be waiting for them on the other side, but knowing they could not remain where they were.

It is a point of pride for me to know that our HRI staff is here on the other side, waiting to help women like Leyla and Mariah. When they, and other clients like them, find our office, hear about our services, work with our incredible staff, and eventually receive legal status in the United States, they know that their leap of faith was not in vain.

When women work together, something magical happens. And this is the magic I celebrate with my co-workers today. Happy Women’s Day! 

Martha Gains Asylum in the U.S.

Martha was a political activist who was persecuted by the Zimbabwean government and the majority party, the ZANU-PF, for her activism and engagement in peaceful political activities. Her home was burned down, and she and various members of her family were physically assaulted and tortured. In 2014, she traveled to the U.S. for her education and when she returned she was questioned by the ZANU-PF about her reasons for visiting the U.S. and sexually assaulted by several ZANU-PF members. She was able to come to the U.S for a school graduation and did not leave the U.S. after learning that her husband had been threatened by the SANU-PF and told that if she returned, they would kill her.

Martha came to HRI in late 2015 for help with asylum case. Due to huge backlogs in the system, after an asylum case was filed, it then took around 2-3 years for the case to be scheduled for an interview. However, after arriving in the U.S., Martha found out that she had urgent medical issues which she needed to address, and her pro bono attorney advocated for her asylum case to be expedited in late 2016.

In addition, her children were being greatly affected by the draught in Zimbabwe and lost their main caretaker when she passed away after Martha left. Martha was distraught at being separated from her children and suffered from depression for much of the time we assisted her. We were grateful for the hard work of her pro bono attorney who crafted a compelling request for her case to be expedited, which the government approved.

Martha’s asylum interview was held in 2017, and she found out she had been granted asylum a few weeks later! Once Martha’s case was approved, HRI’s asylum program immediately filed relative petitions so that her husband and children could join her in the United States.

Matha’s pro bono attorney also assisted HRI’s asylum program with successfully requesting that these petitions be expedited as well.

We are thrilled to say that by the end of 2017, Martha was reunited with her family! There were many tears of joy in our office upon seeing Martha and her family finally together again living safely in the United States and we are tremendously excited to see what the future holds for all of them.

– Zainab Ellis, HRI’s Social Services Director

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

As today is the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, HRI staff members think of the clients we have served over the years who have been victims of Female Genital Mutilation. Female Genital Mutilation “comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.”

One of HRI’s former clients, Leyla, is a 40-year old woman originally from Sudan. As a young girl, she was forced to undergo Type 4 female genital mutilation (FGM). This is one of the most extreme forms of FGM. She was only 9 years old.

Years later, after marrying her husband, Leyla had two sons and two daughters. Childbirth was a very painful experience for her and resulted in many infections and hospitalizations. Because of the immense pain that Leyla experienced due to her FGM, she always imagined that her husband would be opposed to the practice for their daughters. Unfortunately, she was horrified to find out that this was not the case. One day, while on a family trip back to Sudan, Leyla’s husband asked when it would be best to have their daughters circumcised.

Leyla and her family lived in the United Arab Emirates at the time. During a family vacation to the U.S., Leyla, her husband, and their four children visited Niagara Falls and during the trip, Leyla’s husband once again insisted that failing to circumcise their daughters would lead to promiscuity.

Leyla refused to return to the U.A.E. with her husband at the end of the family vacation, fearing that he would surely force their daughters to be circumcised. A year later, Leyla’s husband returned to the U.S. with a new wife and attempted to take their children so that the girls could be circumcised in Sudan. It was only after threatening to call the police that Leyla’s husband left.

Leyla and her children have now received their green cards. Thanks to our many supporters, DASH Network, and our pro bono attorneys, Leyla and her children have a home, are safe, and are thriving here in the U.S.

While FGM is illegal in the U.S., more and more women who are victims of FGM are emigrating to the U.S. where they have to deal with the lasting repercussions of their genital cutting and doctors, friends, and lovers who may know very little about this practice.

Please take today to learn more about the issues surrounding FGM for millions of women around the world, and hopefully, someday we together will be able to finally #EndFGM.

For more resources on FGM, please see the links below:





A Farewell to Camille Kulas

HRI will be saying farewell to our social services intern, Camille Kulas, after a summer-long internship.

A native of Lille, France, Camille received her undergraduate degree in Economics and Management and her master’s degree in Political Science: International Solidarity, Humanitarian Action, and Crisis which made her a unique and perfect fit for HRI.

Elisandra de la Cruz, Casework and Administrative Assistant at HRI worked closely with Camille throughout the summer and explained, “Camille did extensive work focusing and supporting our newly arrived immigrants seeking asylum in our social service department. Whether she was meeting with clients one on one and conducting intakes to assess needs or working with agencies around the DFW area to build a solid referral system for our clients, she always put her heart into her work.

During her time here, she also worked conducting research on the best practices to interview victims of crime and abuse. This prepared her to be able to successfully understand the difficulties immigrants face in Texas and the best way to support them in our social services department. Her diligence, compassion and dedication towards helping our most vulnerable made Camille a perfect fit not only for our social service department, but our agency as a whole.”

Camille said that the driving force in interning with our organization was because, “I wanted to get a taste of how human rights work, and reading about HRI really made me consider it, as it helps a lot of people from different backgrounds—and not only for asylum. I thought it would be really interesting and a good place to learn about the differences in law regarding immigration between the US and France, and it turned out that it was. This internship was a great way to really get an idea of how things are in reality and to really be able to help people get settled into their new lives in the US.”

One of the ‘aha-moments’ Camille said that she experienced during her time at HRI was regarding the asylum system and, “how the government does not help asylum seekers at all, not even to have housing, how long the process can be, and learning that withholding of removal did provide some relief to an asylum seeker, but that they would not be allowed to travel outside of the US.”

She also learned, “How tricky immigration laws can be, but mainly that even though people escaping violence and bad situations can be extremely resourceful, there is a total lack of awareness on how to navigate the American system and that they do need our help to get access to resources and get acclimated to this new country, which is one of the reasons that HRI is so effective in helping survivors of human rights abuses.”

Beyond the technical side of her internship, Camille really enjoyed the personal connections she made as a social services intern: “One of my favorite memories with HRI was seeing one of our clients get settled into her new transitional home with her two small boys and being overjoyed by what the agency is doing. The work that was done and the struggles during this search for housing were definitely worth it when we saw the smiles on their faces.”

Though we are sad to see Camille go, we are certain that she will do amazing things in her life and we hope that our paths will cross again in the future. Until then, we wish her all the best!

What You Need to Know About SB4

The controversial Texas SB4 law has been temporarily halted by US District Judge Orlando Garcia. However, as it is only temporarily halted, it is still important to understand the bill and learn what rights it may threaten.

SB4 punishes law enforcement agencies if they enact policies that prevent officers from asking about a person’s immigration status or if they fail to cooperate with certain requests from federal immigration officials. The law allows police officers to question someone about their immigration status during any “detention.”  Officials who do not comply with the law can be fined, fired and even thrown in jail. SB4 also requires jails to detain immigrants for transfer to immigration authorities if requested by Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

It is important to note that SB4 does not change federal immigration law and does not take away any Constitutional or civil rights.  Police are not required to ask about immigration status and cannot stop someone solely on a suspicion that the person is not authorized to be in the United States.  However, during police stops for suspected criminal activity (including traffic violations), they are allowed to question a person about his or her status, and they may be more likely to do so because of SB4. This may depend on the location, the individual officer involved and the circumstances surrounding the stop.

Local police officers do not have the power to arrest someone solely because he or she is here without permission. They can arrest someone for committing a crime (including most traffic violations) and they can call immigration officials and ask them to come to the scene. But Texas police cannot prolong someone’s detention to investigate that individual’s immigration status or to wait for immigration officials to arrive.

Even if you are here without legal status, you have rights:

  • You have the right to remain silent. If you are stopped by police, you only need to provide your name, address and date of birth. You do not have to tell anyone your place of birth, immigration status or when you came to the United States.
  • Police can only stop or detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime occurred. If you believe an officer violated this right, you should record what happens (using your cell phone camera or voice memos app) and contact an attorney.
  • You have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of your race, ethnicity or the country where you were born (known as national origin). For example, police cannot question the immigration status of some people in a group that they stop and not others, especially if the group is made up of people of different ethnicities or races. If you believe an officer is discriminating against you, you should try to record the incident and speak with an attorney.
  • Other government agencies, including schools and county hospitals, cannot discriminate against you on the basis of your race, ethnicity or national origin.
  • The police can question your immigration status during any lawful detention, which can include a stop for traffic violations.  All drivers should abide by traffic safety laws, such as using seatbelts and car seats, and refraining from speeding and texting while driving.  You should not drive without a valid driver’s license. 
  • You should not sign anything you do not understand.
  • You have a right to a translator if you are not fluent in English.
  • You should not lie to any local, state, or federal (including immigration)officers. It is better to remain silent.
  • If you have filed for immigration status, keep your “receipt notice” with you at all times. If immigration questions you, you should ask for an attorney.

If you or a family member is arrested, it is more likely that local police will contact immigration and hold that person (even if charges are never filed or dismissed). This was the practice of almost all local jails prior to the law. You and your family should have a plan in case that happens:

Keep all your important documents in a safe place. This includes copies of receipt notices from immigration, birth certificates, marriage licenses, information to access bank accounts, leases or titles to property and other information that is important to you.

-Keep a list of emergency contacts up to date at your child’s school(s).

-Create a list of emergency contacts, including the number of your attorney if               you have one.

Ask for a lawyer or for a phone call to call your attorney.

-If you are held past your scheduled release time, contact an attorney or have a family member do so.

-If you have encountered immigration in the past, been to immigration court, or applied for some immigration benefit or relief, you were likely issued an “Alien Number” or “A Number.” Be sure your family has this nine-digit number so they can locate you in the event you are detained by immigration.

Remember, even when/if SB4 goes into effect, you have rights. This is true even if you are undocumented. Remember these rights and talk to your family members about them in case you come into contact with police officers.






The American Dream: Carrying Humanity Forward

Below is the final post from De’Jonnae Boyd, our Marketing & Special Events Coordinator, who left HRI today. She has written about her personal journey in this position and what she has learned during her time at HRI and in Dallas. De’Jonnae’s post is deeply personal and she does not speak for Human Rights Initiative as a whole in this post. 

I interviewed for the Marketing and Special Events Coordinator position from my breezy living room in Almeria, Spain. I had a feeling that Texas was all the heat an east coast girl needed. I read the job description and parsed the website, still I had no clue what I was walking into. For the past year I’ve combed through hundreds of headlines like “An Undocumented Teen Gains Asylum With The Help Of His Undocumented Lawyer”, “Sessions Makes His Case for Why Illegal Immigrants Must Be Held Accountable”, “There’s Something Great About the Muslim Ban” and “Illegals  Flood the U.S. Border Amid Immigration Crackdown”. But no headline can fully blueprint what it means to be an undocumented immigrant or asylum-seeker who has been tortured and abused, having landed in the United States of America in search of the American Dream and protection.


Elisabeth, Kavita, and De’Jonnae pictured with our HRI client (who is also a nurse) who bandaged a race participant after a nasty fall!

As Desmond Tutu once put it, “my humanity is yours, for we can only be human together”; this quote resonates with me as a core ideal. It’s hard to imagine what the denial of humanity looks like until you’ve come face to face with it. During one of my first intakes I sat across from a man, Byron*. His  skin was the color of midnight, his eyes a pale yellow. I didn’t quite know what to expect. He started, “I just wanted to advocate for the LGBTQ community in my country, I’m not gay, but they shouldn’t be denied rights because of who they love.” Byron went on to explain in gruesome detail the abuse he had suffered because of his advocacy, being beaten with a pole, raped by several officers, having his jaw broken, hiding in the countryside for years before finding a way out of the country safely (because visas to the U.S., and the E.U. are hard to come by, especially when you’re an average working class citizen). As Byron told his story his eyes glossed over, and he silently stared off into the distance, two women staring at him waiting for what courts call ‘proof of credible fear’. I’ll never forget the look in Byron’s eyes as he struggled to tell us in detail how he’d been raped by the very men who preached their hatred of homosexuality. I struggled to understand why Byron would advocate so fiercely for a group of people whose plight was not his own.

De’Jonnae with baby Rose at the lavender gardens.

During another intake I met Sybil* who had fled her home country in order to protect her baby girl Rose from female genital mutilation. Again, I was left wondering, ‘why?’.

This past year has taught me what it means to carry the burden of humanity, even when the fight to been seen as human is not my own. Coupled with the deteriorating ideal of  the American Dream, the ability to live one’s life hinges upon privilege  During this year, I have learned that it is our duty as freedom fighters to advocate for those who lack privilege; those whose melanin and whose bank accounts reflect the generations of disenfranchised communities and corrupt political systems.

I’m baffled at the times we’re living through. Times where an executive order and the stroke of a pen denies humanity – access – to others who bleed just as red as the citizens of the United States of America do. I am baffled at those who sit with arms folded scanning headlines that read “At least 10 Dead, Dozens More Found in Back of Tractor-Trailer’ thinking to themselves, “they shouldn’t have come here illegally, that’s what those illegals get”. Really, it’s astounding that the same people who cry “they should have gotten a visa” are those whose ancestors migrated visa-less to the Americas in search of  the American Dream.

Within weeks of moving to Texas, I was moved from a place of sympathy to a place of action. I learned quickly that action is what holds humanity together and that it looks differently for each of us. For some, action is praying the rosary in a dimly lit closet. For others it is advocating for the LGBTQ community even when you’re as straight as the Nullarbor Plain; it’s protesting when a Black mother’s son is gunned down in the street, even if your own child hasn’t a care in the world because he doesn’t fit the description.

De’Jonnae’s mentee with HRI Ambassador, Jin-Ya Huang at the Chinese New Year installation.


Action for me has been mentoring a young girl from Fair Park; 

Two of our HRI Ambassadors and De’Jonnae having dinner with Iraqi refugee, Inam

it has been a guessing game over dinner with Iraqi refugees, Inam and Ferrell, because Google Translate clearly has no interest in translating Arabic into comprehensible English. Action for me has been countless protests and vigils, mourning for the young boys who perished at the hands of those entrusted to protect them. Action has been navigating racial reconciliation as a black woman in predominantly white spaces. Action is not always easy, it’s not always comfortable but it is how we carry humanity forward, it is how we carve a path for all to equally access the American Dream.


Working here at HRI has taught me that together we must carry this sense of duty and the burden of humanity which requires us all to fight like hell until even “the least of these” have access to the dream, The American Dream, to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. I will carry with me the question ‘who are we to deny access to the immigrant or the darker brother?’.

De’Jonnae and Elisandra share a cup of Ethiopian coffee with an HRI Asylum-seeker!

Because the truth is that our silence and inaction makes us complicit in that denial. We have an obligation to see the humanity in our brethren, to empathize -knowing that only together can we be human and that the American dream tastes best when we’re each equally given an opportunity to live it.

-De’Jonnae Boyd, Marketing & Special Events Coordinator

*Names have been changed to protect our client’s identity.

Carolina Wins Asylum! 

HRI recently won the cases of a 23-year-old Salvadoran woman and her 4-year-old daughter who sought asylum from severe domestic violence.  Carolina began living with her partner when she was only 15, and the abuse started shortly thereafter.  He abused her physically, emotionally, financially, and sexually, including when she was pregnant.  She attempted to leave him on many occasions.  She even moved in with her grandfather in another city, but eventually her partner used his gang connections to track her down and threaten her and her grandfather if she did not return to him.  She called the police once when her partner took their daughter from her, but the police told her that they don’t get involved in “marital problems.”

On July 5, 2017, two years after Carolina entered the U.S. and after extensive written advocacy by HRI’s pro bono team, the government attorney agreed that Carolina merited withholding of removal and agreed to asylum for her daughter, so the judge granted those legal remedies without a trial!

-Mary Durbin, Asylum Program Attorney

Josie Settles In


Josie* is currently seeking asylum in the US with her two children. Like most asylum seekers, she is unable ti legally work while waiting for her asylum application to be processed. The financial hardship our clients face are the norm amongst asylum seekers throughout the U.S. Josie can barely afford to buy groceries for her two young boys. After arriving to the U.S. alone with her children she was let to figure out how to navigate the public transportation system on her own.

After much advocacy and coordination from our staff, Josie she was finally accepted into a program for homeless mothers. Our team seamlessly facilitated her move to her new home.  Josie now lives in a safer place where she and her boys share their own room. Thanks to this program and others like DASH Network, Josie and her children were able to enroll in day camps for the summer. These summer camps have allowed Josie to begin to connect to the community and to rebuilding their lives. Our client has also benefited immensely by being paired with an HRI Ambassador/Mentor who has proved to be essential in helping Josie acclimate to her new surroundings. This month our Social Services intern volunteered to showed Josie how her how to use the public transportation system here in Dallas and how to access free food pantries.

Josie is now more confident. She’ll start counseling,enroll in ESL classes, and complete a financial and job readiness course hosted by our Angel of Freedom Award winners, InterNations of Dallas! Our Ambassadors and faithful volunteers are a crucial component to our client’s ability to thrive here in the U.S. We are so thankful to all who have played a role in helping Josie overcome the many obstacles set before her. Seeing our clients succeed and become independent is a small victory for us here at HRI!

-Elisandra De La Cruz, Children’s Program Assistant

Ten Years After

Ten Years After

For almost 10 years I have had the privilege of calling HRI my second home.  This job has seen me through a lot personally- becoming a mother (times 3), the loss of a parent, my own health issues, and multiple scary career changes by my spouse. This job has made me thankful for my life every day. When you hear firsthand from someone about their spouse beating the crap out of them for speaking their mind it makes it much easier to not snap when your husband leaves his shoes in the middle of the living room for the umpteenth time. When you meet with a parent whose child was raped you can’t help but silently thank God for not having to experience that pain.  This job has delivered daily gratitude for the things I have, we all have taken for granted- the ability to feed myself and my family, drive to work with a functioning vehicle and valid driver’s license and insurance, and see law enforcement and not register justifiable fear.

HRI has also allowed me to grow professionally.  Not many careers continue to challenge you ten years in.  Although the Immigration Law part of it has become much easier (and I have become one of the few people who can rattle off sections of the INA on demand, which I am hoping will become a fun bar trick) the counseling portion continues to challenge me.  With the new administration I attempt to calm people daily- sometimes unsuccessfully, but often with laughter.  Early in my career at HRI there was a woman I confronted for not disclosing to me that she had been raped.  I thought I was going to catch her in a lie like on an episode of Law & Order.  She hadn’t told her husband and when I pressed too hard she broke down and told him in my office in front of me.  It was one of the rawest human reactions you can imagine. They will both always have a special place in my heart. That experience taught me to give people space to tell their story at their own pace, when they are ready -not when I’m ready to hear it.  Looking at my clients and telling them that I will advocate for them, knowing that the world has often turned its back to them is one of the best feelings in the world.

What I take away from ten years on the job, aren’t the victories, the wins, the ego strokes. Instead it’s each client who has suffered through tragic events, the ones I could not help. Perhaps it was because there was no legal remedy available to help or because I doubted my own ability to win. In hindsight, I wish I had taken on some of those cases that seemed pointless, like we were guaranteed to lose. But it’s those same cases that drive me forward now. I am leaving the 9-5 life, but I will continue to volunteer. I will continue to take those uphill battles on. Being part of someone’s life in crisis, helping them  rebuilding is an amazing phenomenon I’ve witnessed countless times. The human spirit is implacable. The will to live and laugh when in crisis is what I carry with me.

I am nervous about leaving the HRI family as a staff member.  I know I will never find another boss like the great Bill Holston. I get asked frequently if he really is as cool as he comes off.  He’s actually cooler.  He is a leader, mentor, advocate, and sounding board for me and countless others.  Our staff is all really great- no drama, no fights, and no tension.  The agency has twice the staff as when I joined. Each year we are able to help more people than the year before. To the staff of HRI, I hope you remember you are amazing and to trust your instincts.  To quote Maya Angelou, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” These past ten years have been more than I could have ever hoped for. Cheers to this next season and all of the pro bono cases I’ll take on.

-Melissa Weaver, Women’s & Children Program Attorney

Lucia Get’s A Green Card

Our teenage client from El Salvador recently obtained her green card! Lucia* fled El Salvador in 2013 when she was 13. Lucia’s father was violent and neglectful, physically abusing her when she was as young as 5. She would often have to intervene to stop him from attacking her mother. Later he abandoned the family, providing Lucia with no financial or emotional support.

Lucia arrived in the United States along with a “surge” of other children from Central America, and her case is emblematic of the problems that were caused when Immigration Judges tried to rush these cases through the courts. Lucia appeared at her first hearing without a lawyer, and was given a three month continuance to find an attorney. Lucia struggled to find a lawyer and did not come to Human Rights Initiative until the afternoon before her second hearing.  At that hearing, the Immigration Judge tried to bully our lawyer into accepting something called Voluntary Departure for Lucia, which would have sent her back to a dangerous situation in El Salvador. The judge refused to listen when HRI’s attorney argued that Lucia was eligible for something called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and just needed a continuance of a few weeks to file the appropriate paperwork.  Instead, the judge ordered Lucia deported that day, saying she should have filed the papers before coming to court, even though he had not instructed her that she needed to do that prior to the second hearing (and despite the fact that she did not have a lawyer and was 15 years old at the time).  He only told her that she needed to find a lawyer, which she did.

HRI appealed the Immigration Judge’s deportation order to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). We argued that the Immigration Judge did not follow the proper legal standard for issuing a continuance, and should have granted Lucia that continuance because she had relief available. At the same time we applied for SIJS for Lucia, which she qualified for because she had been abused and abandoned by her father. The BIA agreed and terminated removal proceedings against Lucia, dismissing her case and overturning the removal order against her. The government later granted Lucia SIJS which made her eligible to apply for a green card. This month the green card was granted!

-Chris Mansour

* Our client’s name has been changed.