Content warning: discussion of domestic violence and sexual assault 


Melia* is a 12-year-old girl from El Salvador. Melia came to the United States in order to reunite with her mother, who had fled El Salvador and her violently abusive husband, Melia’s father, a few years earlier. Although Melia only met her father one time after he abandoned the family, her mother had already suffered through extreme physical and emotional abuse from him. Melia has not seen her father since she was 5 years old, and he has never financially supported her. Melia’s father threatened to harm her sister and is currently imprisoned in El Salvador for what Melia’s mother suspects is the murder of a woman. Due to her father’s neglect and abandonment, Melia is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). She is seeking a pro bono attorney to represent her in her immigration proceedings and all aspects of her SIJS application. Melia may also be eligible for asylum based on her mother's fears that gang members will harm Melia. A pro bono attorney representing Melia also should explore whether Melia should seek asylum. 

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.      


Melia* is a 12-year-old girl from El Salvador. Melia’s father was violently abusive towards her mother before and during Melia’s childhood. He would regularly beat Melia’s mother and in one instance caused her to have a miscarriage after kicking her in the back. In order to escape this abuse, Melia’s mother left the country and traveled to the U.S., from where she would send money back to Melia to support her. Melia’s mother returned to El Salvador once after fleeing because her daughters missed her. However, shortly after her return, she encountered her husband, Melia’s father, who dragged her to a secluded location where he and one of his cousins raped her. She survived the incident and once again fled to the U.S. Not long after she left El Salvador the second time, local gang members began pursuing Melia’s older sister. Melia and her sister were living with their maternal grandmother during this time. Fearing for her daughters' safety, Melia’s mother organized for them to travel to the U.S.  

Melia now lives with her mother in Virginia and hopes to remain in the U.S. She only remembers meeting her father once and has never received any financial support from him. She has no contact with her father and has not spoken to him in years.  Because of this abandonment and neglect, Melia is 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 USCIS. Because a state family court order is required, the attorney who represents Melia will need to be barred in Virginia or obtain court permission to appear pro hac vice.   

Melia may also be eligible for asylum, and a pro bono attorney taking Melia's case will want to explore this possibility further. 


  • Timeline: Melia does not have any hearings scheduled currently. State court custody hearings for SIJS ideally occur to within 4 to 6 months, followed by USCIS filing (approvals can take 8-10 months).      

  • Location: Fairfax County, VA (not detained)      

  • Language: Spanish - will require a fluent Spanish-speaking pro bono team member or an external translator.    

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