Earlier this month, I appeared in the Atlanta Immigration Court for only the third trial of my career. I do my best to avoid going to trial – either by taking cases that I think can be resolved in other ways or I refer the cases that will likely go to trial to more experienced attorneys.
This trial involved a 14-year old girl who had come to the United States over three years ago. I won’t go into details as to why she left her home country, but she’d been through a lot. By the time she was reunited with her mother in the United States, after nearly eight years apart, she didn’t know who she could trust.
If you thought to hit puberty was tough for you, imagine what it was like for her in a new country, with a new language, with a new family and coping with demons no one (especially someone her age) should have to deal with. To complicate matters, she was also in deportation proceedings because she was caught at the border when she came into the country.
As she got older, she started acting out, running away from home, and not respecting her mother’s rules. She found refuge with a family friend and was able to go back and forth between home and the friend’s home. Since she was spending more and more time with the friend, we obtained a Dependency Order from the Juvenile Court, giving the friend legal authority over the girl, but it stopped short of taking away custody from her mother.
With the Dependency Order, we were able to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status with USCIS. This designation allows certain minor children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by at least one biological parent to petition on their own for a green card.
Since she was in deportation proceedings, we did her adjustment of status in court instead of at an interview with USCIS. It was a first for me. It didn’t have to be that way, but ICE expressed concerned with the case and didn’t want to agree to terminate the case before going to trial.
At trial, the only witness was my client. She testified that she still saw her mother at least once a week. She talked about how her mother gave her a gift on her most recent birthday. When the ICE attorney made her closing remarks, she reiterated that there was a concern for fraud on the Dependency Order and the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status designation because the mother was still present in her life.
To be clear – there is nothing in the law that says that all connection between both parents has to be severed with the child. The mother was present for all Juvenile Court proceedings. Also, only USCIS – not the Court and not ICE – has the power to decide whether or not someone is a Special Immigrant Juvenile. The concerns the ICE attorney had weren’t truly valid.
When the Immigration Judge made his ruling, he found that there was no reason to suspect fraud in the case. In fact, he said the fact that the mother continued to show interest in her daughter’s life was commendable and something to be encouraged since the mother herself hadn’t been the one to cause direct harm to her daughter. He then granted Adjustment of Status and my client became a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States.
My client is now free to move forward with her life without the fear of deportation hanging over her. She can decide to become an honor student (she’s a smart girl and can totally do it), or she could become pregnant next year. She could do both. But, whatever she does, she will be able to do it here in the United States, far away from where she was hurt before. The future is truly up to her now.