Help a Salvadoran Child Who Suffered From Physical Abuse and Neglect and Escaped Gang Threats
William* is a 16-year-old boy from El Salvador. William's father physically abused him when he was younger and continues to neglect him. In addition, a gang threatened his life and those of his family members; they killed his uncle and forced William and his grandmother to perform low-level tasks under duress. William left El Salvador to escape the gang, and he wants to remain in Maryland with his mother. Based on his father's abandonment and abuse, William is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a statutory form of relief that combines both state court and federal immigration components. William seeks an attorney to represent him in all aspects of his SIJS proceedings. William may also qualify for asylum based on the gang's persecution of him and his family. A pro bono attorney will want to further explore these facts and further assess William's eligibility for asylum.
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William is a 16-year-old boy from El Salvador who currently lives with his mother in the United States. William lived in El Salvador with both of his parents until he was 6. Throughout his childhood, William suffered from an abusive and difficult relationship with his father. His father was rarely present, spending most of William’s upbringing at work or with other women, leaving William’s mother to take care of him and his siblings. However, when William’s father was with the family, he would abuse William. His father would ridicule him and hit him with a belt while William lay on the floor, leaving him very bruised. Whenever William did not listen to his father's wishes, his father would lash out and beat his son. William was only 4 or 5 years old at the time.
When William was 6 years old, his father left his family and went to the United States. William’s mother followed a year later, leaving William and his siblings in the care of their maternal grandmother. In the U.S., William’s parents faced marital difficulties as William’s father frequently mistreated his wife. The father was often drunk or on drugs and would abuse William’s mother to the point of threatening her life. After a year together in the U.S., they separated.
From the U.S., William’s father sent money every other month to William’s grandmother for taking care of the children he had left in her care. After two years in the U.S., William’s father returned to El Salvador to live with another woman. Even though he lived just 45 minutes away from William, he rarely saw his children and stopped sending them money. Despite everything, however, William has maintained a relationship with his father and speaks with him frequently.
While William was still in El Salvador and his parents were in the U.S., he and his siblings lived with their grandmother in gang territory. They were constantly at threat of violence and harassment. The gang murdered one of William's uncles when he stopped paying extortion money, and gang members have threatened the life of William's grandmother and her whole family. The gang attempted to convince Walter to leave his schooling to join the gang. They would follow him to school, ridicule him for being studious and religious, and threaten to kill him if he did not join. The gang went as far as forcing William’s grandmother to be a lookout and to alert them if the police came to the neighborhood. Eventually, William also did small tasks for them to keep himself and his siblings from harm; they would force him to inform the gang if police were in the neighborhood and to use his own money to buy them phone data.
To escape the gang, William secretly left El Salvador, notifying only his grandmother of his departure so that the gang did not find out. William is confident that if he returns to that neighborhood, the violence, threats, and harassment would start again and that he, his siblings, and his grandmother would never be safe. William believes that the gang would find him. His grandmother still lives in the same neighborhood in El Salvador and still receives threats.
Based on his father's abuse and neglect, William is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a statutory form of relief that combines both state court and federal immigration components. William is looking for an attorney to represent him in all aspects of his SIJS proceedings. SIJS is available to 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 William will need to be barred in Maryland or obtain court permission to appear pro hac vice.
In order to assist William, a pro bono team will appear in state family court to obtain an order that he meets the requirements for SIJS; prepare and submit a SIJS application package with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; appear with him at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services interviews, 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.
As noted above, William may also qualify for asylum based on his history with the gang. A pro bono attorney will want to further develop those facts and further assess the viability of filling an application for asylum in William's case.
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: Windsor Hill, Maryland (not detained)
*Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy