Gonzalo* is a 11-year-old boy from Nicaragua. Gonzalo was abandoned by his father and neglected and abused by his mother. Growing up, Gonzalo would frequently wander the streets alone with nothing to eat because his mother failed to provide for him. Gonzalo’s mother would leave him for days at a time. When she would return home she would beat Gonzalo, leaving bruises on his body. Happily for Gonzalo, his older sister is like a mother to him, and he lived with her and her husband in Nicaragua for several years. Eventually, though, all three of them were forced to flee to the U.S. because political extremists began targeting them. Because Gonzalo was abandoned, abused, and neglected by his parents, he is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Gonzalo may also be eligible for asylum, and a pro bono attorney should explore that possibility as another defense against his deportation.

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.      


Gonzalo* is an 11-year-old boy from Nicaragua. Growing up, Gonzalo had no parents to rely on. His father abandoned him before he could talk, and his mother neglected him, beating him when she did spend any time with him. Gonzalo attended school when he could, but because his mother did not provide for him, his attendance was spotty, and he was unable to get a good education. Even when Gonzalo’s grandmother offered Gonzalo’s mother an apartment to stay in, she declined, instead deciding to move from house to house and leave Gonzalo alone for days at a time. During the days that she left, Gonzalo had nobody looking after him and no food to eat.

Gonzalo’s older sister revealed that his mother suffers from severe mental illness that leaves her unable to take care of Gonzalo. When Gonzalo was 5 years old, he moved in with his older sister and her husband. Just one year later the family found out that Gonzalo’s mother had moved to another country without notice. Since this time, Gonzalo’s mother has never provided him with any financial or emotional support. His father has always been completely absent from his life.

Gonzalo’s sister and her husband fled Nicaragua for the U.S. after a local group of violent political activists began chasing them down and threatening them. They were unable to file a report with the police or local government because of the rampant corruption that exists within the ruling party. Gonzalo fled with them to the U.S. but was separated from them at the border. He has since reunified with his sister in Maryland, where he now hopes to continue his education. His sister is like a parent to him, and she even began custody proceedings in Nicaragua, but those proceedings had to be abandoned when they fled the country.

The neglect and abuse by his mother and the abandonment by his father make Gonzalo eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). 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 the federal immigration agency. Because a state family court order is required, the attorney who represents Gonzalo will need to be barred in Maryland or obtain court permission to appear pro hac vice.  

Based on the violent threats against him as a result of his political affiliation, Gonzalo may also be eligible for asylum. A pro bono attorney should further explore his asylum eligibility as an additional defense against his deportation.

  • Timeline: Gonzalo does not have any hearings scheduled currently. State court custody hearings for SIJS ideally occur within 4 to 6 months, followed by USCIS filing (approvals can take 8 to 10  months).
  • Location: Montgomery County, MD (not detained)
  • Language: Spanish - will require a fluent Spanish-speaking pro bono team member or a translator   

For more information about this case, please contact Jennifer Grishkin, Managing Attorney for Pro Bono Coordination, at

*Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy