Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
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.”