Ernesto* is a 12-year-old-boy from El Salvador. When Ernesto's mother was 17 years old, she worked as a housemaid. While working, she was raped by Ernesto's father and became pregnant. After Ernesto was born, his father refused to acknowledge him as his child and neglected Ernesto. The father paid child support for one year but never provided for Ernesto in any other capacity. Once Ernesto’s mother immigrated to the United States, Ernesto lived with family members until they either grew too old to care for him or passed away. Because his father neglected him and he does not have a viable caretaker in El Salvador, Ernesto is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a statutory form of relief that combines both state court and federal immigration components. Ernesto seeks an attorney to represent him in all aspects of his SIJS proceedings. 


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. 




Ernesto is a 12-year-old-boy from El Salvador who wishes to remain safe with his mother in the United States. When his mother was 17 years old, she worked as a housemaid and lived in the house that she cleaned. Ernesto’s father had a key to that house and used it to access Ernesto’s mother to rape her. After being raped, Ernesto’s mother discovered that she was pregnant, but Ernesto’s father said that he was not the father. Ernesto’s mother had to go to court to force the father to claim Ernesto and to pay child support. However, Ernesto’s father only paid child support for one year, as he never wanted Ernesto or any parental responsibilities. Furthermore, throughout Ernesto’s entire childhood, he has only seen his father two times. 


When Ernesto was 1 year old, his mother left El Salvador for the United States. From the U.S., Ernesto’s mother provided for him by sending him items. In his mother's absence, Ernesto was cared for by his maternal grandparents. However, his grandparents passed away, leaving him in the care of his aunt. His aunt eventually grew elderly and was no longer able to take care of him. When Ernesto lived with his grandparents and aunt, he lived in an unsafe neighborhood. The neighborhood was dangerous and violent; gangs had a lot of power and Ernesto was at threat of being recruited. 


Without a viable caretaker to raise him, Ernesto left El Salvador to reunify with his mother and to escape gang violence. Due to his father’s abandonment and a lack of a caretaker in El Salvador, it is in Ernesto’s best interest to permanently live in the United States with his mother.


Ernesto is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a statutory form of relief that combines both state court and federal immigration components. Ernesto seeks an attorney to represent him in all aspects of his SIJS proceedings.


SIJS is available to unaccompanied immigrant children under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, who cannot be reunified with one or both parents, and for whom returning to their home country is not in their best interest. SIJS requires three approvals, one from a state family court and two from USCIS. Because a state family court order is required, the attorney who represents Ernesto will need to be barred in Maryland or obtain court permission to appear pro hac vice. 


In order to assist Ernesto, a pro bono team will appear in state family court to obtain an order that the child meets the requirements for SIJS; prepare and submit a SIJS application package with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; appear with the child at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services interview, if required; and handle the adjustment of status paperwork. There also may be one or more brief scheduling hearings (“master calendar hearing”) with an Immigration Judge. 


Timeline: No Immigration court hearings scheduled yet; State court custody hearing for SIJS ideally within 4 to 6 months, followed by USCIS filing (approvals can take 10 to 12 months). In response to COVID-19, the courts currently permit attorneys to attend all hearings telephonically. 

Location: Prince George’s County, MD (not detained)

Language: Spanish


For more information about this case, please contact Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney Jennifer Grishkin at or 202-866-9287. 


*Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy