Hector’s Story

“Hector”, a father of three, has been sitting in a detention cell in Adelanto since early May, nervously evaluating his options to remain in this country legally. Hector has been in the United States since 1981, when his family fled El Salvador in the midst of a civil war that was gripping the country. His middle-class family had close ties to the government at the time and feared persecution, so they fled to the US when Hector was still a child. They were detained in Mexicali, where his family was granted political asylum. His family hired an attorney and applied for amnesty a few years later, but because he had already turned 18, he was unknowingly left out of the petition. His family cycled through three dishonest attorneys, who continued to take his family’s money while making empty promises to get him residency. Hector has only had access to a work permit while he filed for residency, which he has had to renew annually.

Hector has a few options to try to remain in the United States legally, which include a U-visa, political asylum, and VAWA. Hector believes he may qualify for a U-visa, which applies to those who were victims of a violent crime in the United States. In 1989, someone broke into his home late at night, and Hector managed to apprehend the perpetrator. He underwent a few injuries at the time, and was able to testify against the suspect and see him get convicted. He also believes he may have a case for political asylum, due to his family’s history in El Salvador. Hector also qualifies for VAWA relief, which applies to victims of domestic violence. Hector was married for 21 years and suffered constant abuse from his ex-wife, who was arrested three times and convicted once.

Hector has three kids, all citizens, ranging in ages from 9 to 25 years old. He has a one-year old grandson who he has unfortunately only met once due to his detention. Hector has been especially desperate to get out of Adelanto as soon as possible to be with his daughter, who is going off to college this fall. He is extremely proud of her and wants to be there for her during this important period of her life. He tells us that he always wanted to reward his daughter’s good grades and promising future by traveling the country with her if she went to college; he’s now frustrated that he’s had to break his promise to her. During his stay in Adelanto, he has already lost his business, an auto-shop, and his life savings are quickly depleting. He hopes that he’ll be released to his family as soon as possible, as he is eager to get his life back on track. Although he understands the difficulties many detainees face trying to readjust to life outside of detention, he hopes to be given the chance to reunite with his family.

Meet Our Summer Interns!

These past couple of weeks, Esperanza has had the chance to host seven law and undergrad interns through our summer internship program. The interns come from a variety of schools – Loyola Law School, UCLA Law School, USC School of Law, and Cal State Northridge – and have helped our attorneys with various different tasks . Although from different schools, all of our interns share the same interest in immigration law and are excited to have the unique opportunity to explore their passions through the several different programs in our organization.

Nadia Danilovich and Justine Schneeweis, second year law students from USC School of Law and Loyola Law School, both work on the Youth Program and assist attorneys Martin Gauto and Rachel Prandini. “I wanted to work somewhere that gave immigrants a chance to have to the legal representation they deserve,” says Nadia. Nadia and Justine help us by accompanying the attorneys on weekly visits to the children’s shelters and conducting on-site intakes, writing memos, preparing client applications and documents, and researching and writing memorandums for Special Immigrant Juvenile visa cases, DACA, U-visas, and T-visas.

Renee Manrique, a second year law student from Loyola Law School, works with attorneys Susan Alva and Shaila Rahman on our Legal Orientation Program for Custodians. She helps with the orientation classes, gathers referral information for individuals with claims identified in LOPC intakes, and assists on DACA cases. Renee’s interest in immigration law stems from her own family history and her observations as a teacher in Oakland, CA. “I saw the devastating impact that immigration issues have on families and children when I was teaching a population with a high percentage of immigrants in Oakland,” she explains. Through our LOPC program, Renee is able to work closely with children and their families and impact their lives in a positive way.

Susan Lopez, Friyana Dadabhoy, Samuel Robles-Fuentes, and Laura Mendez, hailing from UCLA Law School, Loyola Law School, and Cal State Northridge, assist several attorneys in our Legal Orientation Program and Direct Representation Program. They write motions and briefs, conduct legal research, and provide individual legal orientation assistance to detainees in the Adelanto Detention Facilities. “I’m interning with Esperanza because I’m really interested in immigration and criminal law,” explains Susan. Through our Legal Orientation Program, Susan is able to receive valuable, hands-on experience in her field of interest. “I interned at Esperanza because I wanted to be a part of an organization that passionately helps underprivileged individuals,” says Samuel.

Working with Esperanza has provided our interns with the unique opportunity to make tangible differences in the lives of many vulnerable and under-served individuals. Our interns have greatly contributed to our mission this summer and their work is highly appreciated by the staff and population we serve.

Getting to Know Adelanto and Its Detainees

The Adelanto Detention Center is a privately owned facility contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  It currently holds about 700 detainees who are all being held in the custody of ICE during the pendency of their removal proceedings.   Although the detention facility’s infrastructure may be bleakly colored and its location bare, detainee “Mario Pena” (not his real name), who has just been transferred from Ventura County Jail on Monday, June 24th already favors the facility over the previous one he was in.   According to Pena, the facility’s recreation room has two huge flat screen TVs, one for watching sports, the other for movies.

While the duration of his stay at Adelanto remains uncertain due to his recent transfer, Pena looks at his current situation with a sense of optimism.

Pena admits to having done some regrettable things and says he will continue to do whatever it takes to turn his life around.  Mario Pena was born in Mexico in 1958.  His father, who was from Mexico City, brought him as a young boy to California in 1968.  Pena grew up in San Jose, California, inherited his father’s business and eventually settled in Simi Valley in Southern California.  He has one daughter and granddaughters living in Simi Valley, which he sees as a perfect place to raise a family.

Through our Legal Orientation Program (LOP), Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project provides detainees such as Pena information on their rights in immigration court, the consequences of deportation versus voluntary departure, and the requirements of various types of legal claims that may qualify a person to stay legally in the U.S.  Pena says that he is relieved to have LOP visits to the facility because of the useful information it provides.  While it is unfortunate for people like Pena to be detained at the Adelanto facility, it is the hope that Esperanza will give them the tools they need to be able to fight to remain in the United States.

Jorge’s Story

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Our attorneys met “Jorge” in the Adelanto Detention Facilities over 7 months ago, where he is being held for deportation and removal proceedings. He has five daughters, ranging from 8 to 22 years old, and is fighting a deportation order so he can remain with the only family he knows. Born in Mexico, Jorge was brought over to the United States at the age of 9 and has been a lawful permanent resident since 1986. Unfortunately, Jorge’s status as a permanent resident is threatened and he must now prove he qualifies for a cancellation of removal in order to remain in this country.

Jorge maintains a strong relationship with all five of his daughters and has an especially close relationship with his two youngest daughters and their mother, seeing them at least once a week and speaking to them on a daily basis. His daughters have also been very involved with his case, helping gather documents and staying in touch with Esperanza throughout the pro bono procedure. “My 18-year old – she’s an angel – she’s been helping me out a lot with my case”, Jorge says with a smile. Jorge wants to stay in the U.S. because he wants to watch his daughters grow even more and wants to continue to be a positive influence in their lives. He is proud of his daughters and their accomplishments and the fact that he has been a good father to them, despite not having a positive father figure in his life.

Because he has been a permanent resident since 1986, Jorge qualifies for a cancellation of removal. In order to qualify for a cancellation of removal, a person must have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years, have lived in the United States for at least 7 years under any status, and must not be convicted of any aggravated felonies. Carolina Garza de Luna, one of Esperanza’s brand-new legal assistants, has recently found a pro-bono lawyer willing to fight for Jorge’s right to stay in the country.

Thanks for all your hard work Carolina and good luck to Jorge and his family!

Lindsay Toczylowski Returns to Esperanza with a New Pilot Program

Esperanza is launching a new pilot program, the Immigrant Family Support Program (IFSP), that will provide immigration legal services to at-risk youth and their families. This exciting program may be new, but the Immigration Attorney in charge has a long history at Esperanza and with this area of immigration law.

Lindsay Toczylowski first became involved in immigration issues as an undergraduate at San Diego State University when she helped found a local chapter of Amnesty International. It was through this activist work that she was introduced to human rights issues, and specifically the problems in Tijuana.

“I was helping to organize fellow activists to go down to Tijuana and tour machinadora factories, which are prime places for people to exploit labor,” says Lindsay. “By going down there, meeting people working in these factories and hearing their stories about crossing back and forth across the border, I became interested in immigration issues and in law.”

Lindsay went on to get her J.D. from USC Law School where she became involved in the Immigration Clinic and got hooked on immigration work. After graduation, Lindsay worked internationally with refugees, and then returned to Los Angeles to represent foster kids at the Children’s Law Center. She came to Esperanza in 2011 as a Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Fellow attorney where she represented undocumented youth who were in foster care or in the care of a parent or guardian. Last summer she left Esperanza to work as a Staff Attorney at KIND, representing unaccompanied alien children in removal proceedings who were eligible for legal relief. However, when the new program was announced at Esperanza, Lindsay knew she had to apply.

“If I could have written my own job description this position is what I would have written,” Lindsay says, laughing.

The Immigrant Family Support Program (IFSP) is an all-inclusive approach that seeks to provide immigration resources to youth who are already receiving social services, oftentimes because of dependency or delinquency issues, and their families.

“The idea is that often you’ll see a kid acting out or having problems,” says Lindsay. “That’s often because if they don’t have status they have no hope of going to college or of being able to work legally, and so they don’t see the point of being a good kid if they aren’t being given a shot at these things. We have a lot of kids whose parents don’t have status. They have that same feeling of futility because at any moment their parents could be deported and therefore they never feel secure. That’s very scary for a child. I’m so excited about this program because I’ll be able to work with social workers and say, if we solved this immigration issue, all these other problems may get better. It’s a more holistic approach.”

Lindsay will be screening youth and their families for legal relief and also training social workers on how to pinpoint at-risk youth with potential immigration cases. The children shelters have estimated that 1/3 of the youth receiving their wraparound services need immigration assistance. Lindsay will also be representing the at-risk youth, and building a network of attorneys to do similar legal work. She is looking forward to the challenge of working with adults again, especially with the family-based petitions, and to collaborating with social workers and families.

Welcome Lindsay! We can’t wait to see how you revolutionize how we approach at-risk youth to help them build a better life.

Youth Who Fled Gangs in Guatemala Wins His Green Card

When Esperanza meets unaccompanied children who are apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, they have often just finished a long and grueling crossing. However, those who qualify for legal relief from deportation begin a whole new and extended journey through the United States’ legal system.

Two years after Esperanza attorney Martin Gauto, first met “Mario” he finally stood before an Immigration Judge to receive the verdict for his case. Mario qualified for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which is a form of legal status for youth who have been neglected or abused by one or both of their parents. Mario was physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic father in Guatemala. As the oldest child, Mario not only bore the brunt of the abuse, but was also expected to work to provide for his family.

However, to receive legal status, Mario had to prove to the Immigration Judge that he would not prove a threat in the United States as a legal resident. When he was eleven, Mario joined a local gang in Guatemala that engaged in petty crime, for which he was arrested twice.

“Mario is a victim of abuse,” says Martin. “It’s not uncommon for children who have been abused or neglected to seek love, acceptance and fellowship on the streets if they can’t get it at home, and the gangs prey upon this. It’s quite common.”

Not only did the gang provide a support network for Mario, but they also gave him money to help his family if he participated in some forms of illegal activity. Mario sold marijuana and stole electronics for the gang to help support his family.

“I didn’t do it because I wanted to, but because I had to,” Mario told the judge at his adjustment of status hearing. “I had to help my mother.”

Mario’s criminal history in Guatemala threatened his eligibility for the SIJS benefits. Martin had to prove to the Immigration Judge that Mario would not engage in illegal activity in the United States.

“Mario had a compelling story of trying to get out of the gang,” says Martin. “He’s also been here for almost two years and he’s never been in trouble. In fact, he’s a valued member of the communities he’s a part of: his foster family, the church he goes to, his school. We felt he had a good chance even with his checkered past.”

Mario came to the United States in order to escape the gang he was involved with and his abusive father. The gang had been threatening him because he was refusing to participate in more serious criminal activities. He told them he was going to visit some relatives, and instead, began the journey north to the United States towards what he hoped would be a better life.

“I came to the U.S. because I did not want to be a part of a gang. I did not want that kind of life,” says Mario. “I feel bad because I did things I shouldn’t have there. I know you have to respect the law.”

Martin and Mario convinced the Immigration Judge that Mario was not a threat to the United States and he was granted legal status and a green card. He will complete his senior year of high school with his foster family, and then he is free to build any future he wants.

“He was so happy and overwhelmed with relief after the hearing,” says Martin now. “You could tell he had been in a lot of stress and was very nervous. His social worker tells me he is ecstatic.”

Congratulations Mario and Martin!

Rodriguez v. Hayes – A Breakthrough in Immigration Law

On April 16th, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Rodriguez v. Hayes that immigrants who have been held in detention for longer than six months have a right to a bond hearing. Rodriguez v. Hayes affirms the decision of the U.S. District Court, Central District of California in Rodriguez v. Robbins, which was decided earlier in 2012. By affirming Rodriguez’s preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit court extends the right to a bond hearing for immigrants beyond a local district to all of the Ninth Circuit, including Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and most of California. This will aid thousands more detainees and give them the chance to fight for their release from civil immigration detention.

An immigration bond is what a detainee must pay to be released from detention that is reimbursed when the individual finishes their case in Immigration Court. Up until now immigrant detainees who have been denied a bond or who cannot pay their bond must fight their case from inside a jail, whether it takes them two weeks or two years. They have never been given the opportunity to have their status reviewed on a periodic basis.

“The Department of Homeland Security has held the position that they can detain immigrants as long as it takes to finish a case,” said Esperanza Director, Caitlin Williams. “This can take years. Meanwhile, families struggle and fall apart from their prolonged separation.”

This procedure of holding individuals in civil detention for an indefinite period was brought into question in this class action lawsuit spearheaded by the ACLU. Alejandro Rodriguez is one of six individuals involved in this case. Alejandro was detained for three years while the government tried to deport him for his minor theft offenses. He won his case and currently lives in Southern California, but he lost three years of his life to the immigration system.

Now, thanks to the ruling in Rodriguez v. Hayes, all detainees within the Ninth Circuit jurisdiction who have been held for 6 months or longer pursuant to two specific section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA §§ 235 and 236(c)) are to be given a bond hearing before an Immigration Judge.  In these bond hearings, the government must justify the detainee’s continued detention.  This is different than normal bond hearings held immediately after a detainee is taken into ICE custody, where the detainee has the burden of showing he should be given a bond. As advocates for incarcerated immigrants, Esperanza celebrates this progress which upholds the importance of personal liberty that our Constitution triumphs.