TEENAGER TARGETED BY SALVADORAN POLICE SEEKS ASYLUM AND SIJS
Vittorio* is an 18-year-old Salvadoran youth who is in need of attorney representation. In El Salvador, he experienced persecution by the police, harassment by gang members because of his religious affiliation, abandonment by his father, and lack of protection from the government. He is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) based on his father's neglect and abandonment, and he is eligible for asylum based on his well-founded fear that the Salvadoran police and gang members will continue to persecute him if he returns to El Salvador. Because there are two forms of relief at play in this case, it would be well-suited for an attorney who has some experience with SIJS and/or asylum.
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Vittorio is an 18-year-old youth from El Savador. He lived in El Salvador with his mother and two siblings. He had finished high school, had a job, and was planning to go to university. However, he was forced to flee El Salvador in 2019 to escape persecution from the Salvadoran police and gang members.
Even though Vittorio is not and never has been in a gang, he fears returning to El Salvador because an anti-gang section of the Salvadoran police force systematically targeted and victimized him. The sect regularly would stop him in the street, accuse him of being a gang member, steal his money, physically and verbally harass him, and threaten him with jail time. Vittorio does not think the police truly believed that he was a gang member; rather, they wanted to enrich themselves and used this as an excuse to stop him and steal from him. For example, on one occasion, Vittorio was on his way to get medicine for his mother; the police stopped him and took the $5 he was carrying to buy medicine. The police accused him of stealing the money and hit him in the face and head. When Vittorio asked the officers their names to file a report, they hit him harder. On another occasion, Vittorio was working on a school project with classmates when the police approached them and took their phones and money and beat them. The police persecution became so bad that Vittorio stopped leaving his house.
Vittorio also was harassed regularly by gang members at his school because of his dedication to religion. Religion is extremely important to him and he goes to church every Sunday. Because of these instances of ongoing harassment by the police and his persecution due to his being a member of a protected groups, he is eligible for asylum. For this form of relief, an attorney will represent him in a trial-like hearing in Immigration Court.
Vittorio’s father left for the United States when he was one year old and has never tried to develop a relationship with him or be a consistent figure in his life. His lack of relationship with his father makes him eligible for SIJS based on neglect and abandonment. 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 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Because a state family court order is required, the attorney who represents Vittorio will need to be barred in Maryland or obtain court permission to appear pro hac vice.
In order to assist Vittorio, a pro bono team will appear in state family court to obtain an order that he meets the requirements for SIJS; prepare and submit an SIJS application package with USCIS; appear with the child at a USCIS interview, if required; and handle the child's adjustment of status (green card). There also may be one or more brief scheduling hearings (“master calendar hearing”) with an Immigration Judge.
Timeline: No Immigration Court Calendar Hearing currently scheduled; asylum application should be filed expeditiously; 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 & Language: He lives in Montgomery County, MD and speaks Spanish.
Please contact our Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney, Jennifer Grishkin at Jennifer@caircoalition.org, if you are interested in taking this case.
*Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy.