Elias* is a teenager from El Salvador who was forced to join a violent gang at 10 years old. He was regularly beaten and forced to consume drugs while being promoted through the ranks of the gang and was forcibly tattooed when he resisted further promotion. When he narrowly escaped death as the only gang member survivor of a violent incident, he used the possibility that the gang believed he was dead to escape. The gang discovered his escape to the U.S. and has threatened to kill him upon return to El Salvador unless he pays them a large sum. Anti-gang police forces also tortured Elias in an attempt to get information about the gang structure, and Elias fears further violence at their hands as well. Elias is eligible for asylum based on persecution by both the gang and the police and seeks pro bono counsel to represent him. 

 All CAIR Coalition matters placed with a pro bono team are robustly mentored by a CAIR Coalition attorney.  Our mentoring program includes an opening meeting to discuss the scope and process of the matter, provision of samples, guidance on the law, review of draft filings, assistance with client contact, and guidance on preparation for interviews and hearings.  


Elias* is a teenager from El Salvador who was forced to join a violent gang when he was 10 years old. Elias was consistently threatened and beaten from the beginning of his involvement with the gang, and was forced to have sexual intercourse with older women and to consume drugs to the point that he developed an addiction. The gang even threatened to make Elias kill his own mother. Elias was forced to carry drugs and weapons for the gang as part of his promotions. Initiation into new ranks entailed beatings, once so severe that Elias was brought to the hospital unconscious. The gang wanted to promote Elias again in early 2020, but Elias resisted and gang members held him down and forcibly tattooed his neck in retaliation.  

That same evening, Elias and other members of the gang were shot at by anti-gang police. All gang members present except Elias were killed. Elias seized the opportunity to escape, hiding at an aunt’s house in the hope that the gang would think he had died. Elias revealed his gang membership and tattoo to his parents. Realizing that the tattoo made him immediately identifiable to police, which is essentially a death sentence, his parents helped him flee to the United States. Gang members searched Elias’s parents' house looking for him, and when he arrived at the United States border, Elias received a call from a gang member who was angry that he had left the gang without permission. The gang now wants to kill Elias, both for leaving without permission and for having extensive knowledge about the gang and its structure. The gang threatened to kill him if he returned to El Salvador unless he paid a large sum of money within the year. Elias believes he could not return to El Salvador without facing violence or death at the hands of either the gang or the police.  

After Elias arrived in the U.S., he divulged his history of forced gang activity at every opportunity. The U.S. government facilitated Elias’s first tattoo removal procedure while he was still detained. The government also released Elias to live with a sponsor, his aunt, which is unusual for children with known former gang involvement. 

Elias is eligible for asylum based on his fear of persecution by both the gang and the police. As a child asylum seeker, Elias’s asylum process will flow through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the first instance and then possibly be adjudicated in half-day trial in immigration court. An attorney representing Elias will petition USCIS for asylum and assist Elias in his asylum interview; if he does not win asylum through the USCIS process, the attorney will then represent him at trial in immigration court. 

               Timeline: No currently scheduled hearings; there will likely be at least one short calendar hearing in immigration court during the pendency of the USCIS asylum process. File asylum application expeditiously. In response to COVID-19, the courts currently permit attorneys to attend all hearings telephonically. 

               Location: Manassas, VA 

               Language: Spanish 

Please contact our Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney, Jennifer Grishkin at (202) 866-9287, or, if you are interested in taking this case. 

*Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy.