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!
* Our client’s name has been changed.