Larissa is a trans woman who has been a client with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project since 2014. She just turned 21 and has an asylum case pending based on persecution in her home country, Honduras. She is currently enrolled in university and getting her degree in Sociology.
Ever since he was a young boy, Bernie* dreamed of joining his home country’s Air Force; he wanted to serve and be a pilot. The violent and precarious environment he grew up in made that dream impossible, stripping it from him without remorse. Living in omnipresent danger was crippling, and he feared that something would happen to him and his family. Eager to change the trajectory of his life, Bernie made the difficult decision to flee to the United States.
He arrived in the U.S. in 2015 and was immediately taken to a detention center in Texas known as the “hielera” for its abnormally cold temperatures. The military barracks-style, U-shaped room housing 120 detainees left no room for privacy. Luckily, after a few weeks, he was transferred to a center in New Jersey, where he would spend the next three months. The only belonging he was allowed to keep was a picture with his three sisters.
As a 19-year-old in detention, he was confused, sad, and desperate. He often cried at night due to the pain of missing his family—the uncertainty was overwhelming. He felt helpless. Religious groups within the detention center helped him get through his day-to-day and distracted him from his harsh, indefinite reality. Bernie decided to represent himself and, after painfully paying $10,000—an unimaginable sum for his humble background—he was fortunately released. Knowing he alone would not be able to handle the legal challenges ahead, he began looking for counsel. Dedicated attorneys at Esperanza had helped his sister—and he hoped they would help him, too.
Bernie was able to contact Mauro and Jose Luis, who happily took on his case. Actually, Bernie was a “first” for both of them, as they were for him. Bernie was the first client Mauro helped with the legal guardianship petition, notice procedures, and the declaration of due diligence. It was the first case in which Jose Luis (now, one of our managing attorneys) was the attorney of record in state court and the first time Mauro (now, our Paralegal Manager) he put himself as the DOJ representative for a case. They informed Bernie that he was eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a form of relief available for minors who were abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. This was incredible news, and Bernie was elated! He had previously thought that asylum was his only legal route to stay in the country. After overcoming several obstacles, including a judge’s opinion that he was “too old” for this relief, he was granted SIJS and became a Legal Permanent Resident.
Successfully attaining this relief has completely changed Bernie’s life. It’s as if the “sky was lifted” off of his shoulders. He was recently able to visit his mother, who is still deeply affected by the violence in their home country. Seeing the stark difference in safety and opportunity between the U.S. and his home country made him “truly grateful” and “certain” that he made the right decision. On return to the U.S., Bernie was afraid that he would not be able to enter. He smiled for days when airport security let him through after only a brief set of questions. His new dream is to work on the ports in Los Angeles, eager to learn everything the port has to offer: machinery, ship mechanics, and logistics, to name a few. He views his future with unfaltering positivity, reminding himself—and all of us—that “this is the land of opportunity. If one option does not work, that’s okay, because they are unlimited.”
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Stephanie Lomeli, a Paralegal with Esperanza, spent months helping prepare an NQRP case, working closely with the attorney to reach a victory in the end. Here is an interview about her experience.
19-year-old Wilmer came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2013. After working with Esperanza attorney Evelyn Cedeño-Naik, Wilmer won his case in the summer of 2016.
This fall, Wilmer will be a senior in high school, where he is a rising star on the soccer team. He enjoys studying math and English. Wilmer is an aspiring chef, and dreams of going to culinary school after graduation.
Eber is an 18-year-old from Guatemala. After arriving in the U.S. in 2014, Eber began working with Esperanza attorney Anthony Cho on his asylum case. Eber won his case in 2016 and is excited to be living in the United States permanently.
Eber will be entering the 11th grade this fall, and plans to attend college and eventually pursue a career in business. Eber enjoys playing soccer and several musical instruments, particularly the piano.
renda is a 19-year-old from Guatemala. She came to the U.S. in 2013 and found herself in immigration removal proceedings. With the help of Esperanza attorney Anthony Cho, Brenda won her asylum case in 2015, allowing her to stay in the U.S.
Currently, Brenda is working and taking English classes. She likes to listen to music in English, watch cooking videos, cook, and play basketball. She dreams of becoming a chef in the future.
When Angel came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2013, he was reunited with his mother after thirteen long years. Shortly after, he was placed in immigration removal proceedings. With the help of Esperanza staff attorney, Evelyn Cedeño-Naik, Angel was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and then a Green Card, which will allow him to remain in the U.S. permanently.
This fall, 18-year-old Angel will be a senior in high school, where he plans to take four AP courses and several honors classes. Last school year, he was the president of an after-school club called “JUCRIS” which aims to keep recent immigrant students on an academic track. After graduation, Angel wants to attend college in California to stay close to his family.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)
Mauro was born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1987 and came to the United States as a toddler. He graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology. He uses his experience as a former undocumented immigrant as motivation to help support those in need of removal defense.
Sheena Rude is a personal injury and business litigation attorney practicing in Los Angeles. Although immigration is not her field of law, she was inspired to take a pro bono case with Esperanza.
Kipp Mueller specializes in Employment Law, and represents employees who have been aggrieved by corporate employers. He operates a firm with a partner, called Mueller Vemuru LLP.
Jhonatan was born in El Salvador, and his parents immigrated to the U.S. when he was a small child. In 2014, Jhonatan came to the U.S. and was placed in removal proceedings. Jhonatan began to work with Esperanza attorney Evelyn Cedeño-Naik and together, less than a year later, they won his case. Since arriving in the U.S., 18-year-old Jhonatan has been attending school and preparing to apply to colleges (Columbia and UC Berkeley are his current top choices). Jhonatan enjoys reading books by Miguel de Unamuno (the famous Spanish essayist, poet and philosopher) and solving Rubik’s Cube puzzles in record time (his personal best is 30 seconds!)