Latinx Hispanic Heritage Spotlight: Immigration Law Unit

The Legal Aid Society has a long-standing history of working with and advocating for New York City’s most marginalized communities. Due to increased violence in the Central American Northern Triangle and the increase of anti-immigrant and racist policies coming from the Trump administration, immigrant communities, particularly the Hispanic and Latinx families have been disproportionately impacted. The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit has been on the front lines responding to these emergent issues. The case stories below highlight how we have worked to fight for and defend at-risk individuals and families in the Hispanic and Latinx communities.

Ms. B

Ms. B is a single mother with a young daughter who arrived in the United States in January 2017 after being threatened with gang violence and extortion by gang members in Honduras. Ms. B was specifically targeted because she is Garifuna, which is a marginalized ethnic group that is discriminated against in Honduras. As the only single Garifuna woman working and living in her town, Ms. B was subject to racial slurs and physical assault by gang members in retaliation for her refusal to pay extortion money. Within a few months of their arrival in the U.S., Ms. B and her daughter were referred to the Society for assistance by Central American Legal Assistance, and the Society filed an asylum application in January 2018 on behalf of Ms. B and her daughter based on the danger they could face if they were forced to return to Honduras.

Robert

Robert is a 19-year-old from El Salvador who came to the U.S. in December 2016 seeking asylum at the border based on gang violence. As he was 17 years old at the time, he was designated an unaccompanied minor and placed into ORR custody.

After about a month in ORR custody, Robert was reunited with his mother and his older brother in the New York area. He attended ninth grade, went to all of his immigration court hearings, and began the process of applying for SIJS, a way for him to adjust to lawful permanent resident status based on the fact that he was abandoned by his biological father.

Without any notice or warning, ICE agents detained Robert in October 2017 and placed him into the Bergen County Jail pending his immigration court proceedings. LAS began representing Robert in January 2018 and immediately requested a bond hearing be scheduled for Robert's release. However, because DHS designated him as an arriving alien – a person who attempted to enter the U.S. at a port of entry without valid documents – the Immigration Judge found she had no jurisdiction to hold a bond hearing. Based on this decision, Robert's only option was to request parole from ICE. ICE denied Robert's request for parole, providing no reasoning for its decision. LAS appealed the denial of the parole request to the supervisor within ICE, but no response was ever received.

As Robert is a young man who suffered tremendously in detention for over six months without access to basic education or psychological support, all while being far away from his mother, LAS filed a habeas petition with the Southern District of New York requesting his release from custody. In June 2018, the Immigration Judge granted the habeas petition, finding that ICE's arrest in the absence of due process violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and the Administrative Procedure Act , and that Robert's detention without a due process determination violated the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and ordering Robert's immediate release.

Robert is now living with his mother, has a pending asylum application with USCIS, and will soon be filing his petition for SIJS.

Abraham

For as long as he can remember, Abraham’s mother and father physically abused him – whether with tree branches or ropes or beating him by hand. He grew up believing that his parents did not love him. When his father left Honduras for the United States, Abraham’s mother continued the beatings. Finally, when he was 17, Abraham made the decision to leave Honduras and come to the United States to escape the abuse at home. He crossed the border as an unaccompanied minor and, after a month in an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter, he was released and he joined his older brother in New York State. His father was also living with his brother, but almost immediately after Abraham arrived, his father abandoned the brothers completely and returned to Honduras.

After a traffic accident, Abraham was arrested by ICE and held in detention at the Hudson County Correctional Facility. LAS filed an asylum application for Abraham and worked with him to help him articulate the horrific abuse he suffered at home in Honduras. LAS established at a hearing – through Abraham’s testimony, a declaration from his brother, the report of a psychologist who evaluated Abraham, and country conditions evidence about child abuse in Honduras – that Abraham’s abuse rose to the level of persecution and that he faced the possibility of future harm if he were deported. The Immigration Judge granted Abraham humanitarian asylum. After six months of detention, Abraham is now at home with his brother.