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Attorney Brings a Child Migrant One Step Closer to Achieving His Childhood Dream

A teenager from El Salvador, sitting in his lawyer’s office, could not contain his ear-to-ear smile. The woman next to him, his half-sister, was weeping. But the tears she was wiping off her face were those of joy. 

More than three years after coming to the United States, the boy, Luis, finally heard the good news: his green card arrived.  He came to pick it up at the office of Stacy Jones, his attorney.  Jones serves as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children (NCRIC), which provides free legal and social services for unaccompanied child migrants.  

“I feel so happy,” exclaimed Luis, still smiling. “This doesn’t happen every day!”

He was accompanied by his older half-sister, Ligia, who is also his caretaker and would not have missed this long-awaited moment for anything.  “I feel thankful and relieved,” said Ligia, tears still glistening from her smiling eyes.  “Luis can realize his dreams now.”

The timing of the green card, a document granting authorization to work and live in the United States on a permanent basis, could not have been more perfect.  For Luis, a senior at a Virginia high school, it is an early graduation present. Obtaining permanent residency status will allow him to attend college after he graduates this summer—a dream he otherwise would not have been allowed to pursue.

Luis was born in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. He had a happy childhood until two tragic events changed his life forever.  His mother became ill and died when he was only 10 years old.  Two years later, his father was killed by a local gang.  All of a sudden, Luis, still a child, was left without parents.  Fortunately, his older half-sister, Ligia, was able to care for him at the time.  

In the summer of 2007, Luis visited his half-brother in Virginia.  During his trip, Ligia—his only remaining relative in El Salvador—received notice that her green card application had been approved and she would be moving to the United States.  This meant that Luis, only 15 years old at the time, would no longer have anyone to care for him in El Salvador.  He had no choice but to stay in the United States with the only two people who could provide for him, his siblings.

Luis quickly adapted to life in the United States.  He enrolled in school, earned high grades, mastered English, and made friends with his American classmates.  “In America you have the freedom to do whatever you want,” said Luis, who has always dreamed of becoming a pilot.  “You can take advantage of so many opportunities.”  

Not knowing whether Luis would be able to permanently stay with her and her brother in the United States or have to go back to El Salvador, where he did not have anyone to live with, kept Ligia up at night.  “He has the smarts and ability to go to college and be anything he wants, but he didn’t have the papers, so he could not do any of that,” she said, explaining that she was worried about the uncertain future of her younger sibling.  “It was breaking my heart.”

Unable to afford the services of an immigration lawyer to help guide them along the way, the family encountered a number of setbacks and dead ends over the next couple of years.  That is when Ligia contacted NCRIC. A division the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) dedicated to protecting child migrants and helping them navigate the U.S. immigration system and courts.

“They are like my angels,” said Ligia of Jones and the NCRIC staff. “They made this process much easier for us.”

Jones helped Luis file for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a type of visa specifically created for children like him who are unable to reunify with one or both of their parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis, such as being orphaned, as was the case with Luis.  Jones was there for the teenager every step of the way.  She accompanied him to his first interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and kept him informed of the progress they were making throughout the year-long process.  When Luis’ green card arrived at the NCRIC office, Jones asked him to stop by so that she could congratulate him in person.

“I am honored to be a part of this important milestone in Luis’ life,” said Jones.  “In five years, he can apply for U.S. citizenship, which will allow him to make his dream of becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force a reality.”

Photos top to bottom: Luis with his half-sister Ligia and attorneys Sara McDowell (left) and Stacy Jones (right). 

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Learn more about unaccompanied underage migrants and how the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children is giving them hope for a better tomorrow >>


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