Many factors drive immigrants away from their home countries and pull them to the United States. Poverty, violence, and lack of opportunities cause many young people to flee, particularly from Central America, seeking a better and safer life here in the United States. Each year, more minors travel unaccompanied to the United States. Some of these children, if they have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents, have an opportunity to obtain legal status here in the United States, known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Increasing numbers of these unaccompanied immigrant minors have relocated to the Baltimore area, and Immigration Legal Services (ILS) at Esperanza Center is doing its part to provide low-cost representation to these children.
Erica* is just one example of a child who qualifies for SIJS. She arrived alone in the U.S. when she was 16 years old and was placed into the care of her brother in Baltimore City following her detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She had a difficult life in El Salvador and was abandoned by her father when she was only seven years old. Erica’s mother was homeless and was not able to provide for her basic care and needs. At 15, Erica was forced to work to support her family and to help maintain the household since her mother’s health had declined. Rising threats and violence by Central American gangs put Erica’s safety at risk. Additionally, her father never provided financial or parental support.
Erica had to make the difficult decision to journey to the U.S. for a better life. After a month-long harrowing journey from El Salvador, she arrived in the United States. Erica was detained by ICE and placed in removal proceedings before the Baltimore Immigration Court. She was released from detention to go and live with her brother and is now enrolled in high school.
Through the diligent work and zealous representation by Volunteer Attorney, Heather Price, ILS represented Erica in the Balti more Circuit Court, obtaining not only formal guardianship by her brother, but a special finding of fact from the District Court Judge.
After testimony, the judge found that Erica had been abused, abandoned, and neglected in her home country by her father, and that is was not in her best interest to be returned to El Salvador. ILS attorneys used this order from the District Court Judge to apply for a visa for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which was granted on February 2, 2013. Now, ILS will move to terminate the deportation proceedings and seek to adjust her status to lawful permanent residency
Erica feels grateful and fortunate to have the opportunity to build a better life for herself here, in the United States, and focus on her education.
This is only one of many ILS success stories highlighting not only the way we are changing and improving the lives of immigrants every day, but incorporating talented and dedicated volunteers who work beside us to advance the mission of Catholic Charities to love, serve, and teach, and provide care and services to improve the lives of Marylanders in need.