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NY Daily News Covers ICE’s Aggressive Attempts to Deport Our Client, an Abandoned Child Eligible For a Green Card

Erica Pearson of the New York Daily News wrote an article in today’s paper on ICE’s aggressive attempts to deport our client, a minor abandoned by both her parents who is eligible for a green card.

Here is the article below:

Long Islander Antonio Rodas is fighting to get his 19-year-old niece, Salvadoran Maria Isabel Peña Rodas, out of immigration detention and seeks to become her legal guardian

Federal authorities say Peña Rodas is an adult and deportation priority, but uncle’s lawyers say she is eligible for a special green card for abused or abandoned youth


MONDAY, JANUARY 13, 2014, 10:20 PM


A Long Island man fighting to get his niece out of immigration detention wants to become her legal guardian — and his lawyers say she is eligible for a special green card for abused or abandoned youth.

But federal authorities say 19-year-old Maria Isabel Peña Rodas, who left El Salvador last fall, is an adult. And because she’s a recent border crosser, she is a deportation priority.

Border officials caught Peña Rodas in Texas, and she has been in a California detention center for more than four months.

“I am just asking God and immigration to give her a chance to be with us,” said Peña Rodas’ uncle and godfather, Antonio Rodas, 43, of St. James, who has permission to live and work in the U.S. and does prep work at an Italian restaurant.

Rodas’ lawyer Ala Amoachi said Peña Rodas, who was abandoned by her parents and living with her grandmother in El Salvador, should qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, available to abandoned or abused people younger than 21.

“She would be clearly eligible,” Amoachi said. “We said, ‘Why don’t you release her on an order of supervision? Give us some time to get the process started.’ ”

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say that isn’t a reason to let Peña Rodas into the U.S. — because she would first need a family court judge to either declare her a court dependent or legally commit her to the care of a guardian.

She would also need a court order saying she can’t be reunited with one or more parents, and for the court to find that it’s in her best interest to stay in the U.S.

“An undocumented individual is only eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status if they are already a ward or dependent of the state court in the state where they reside,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.

Amoachi expects a New York family court would grant Peña Rodas what she needs, but that can’t happen unless she’s in the state. If Peña Rodas were 17, officials would have already released her.

It is ICE’s policy not to detain unaccompanied kids younger than age 18 for more than 48 hours.

She would have instead been turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, and then either housed in a federal care center or placed with family.

As a growing number of young Central Americans travel alone to the Mexican border — many fleeing abusive homes or gang recruitment — Amoachi said those ages 18 to 20 face a paradox. They are too old to fit ICE’s requirements for release, but still young enough to qualify for a Juvenile Status green card.

Antonio Rodas said his niece told him she feared for her safety in her hometown — that two men had tried to assault her as she walked home from a store. “It would be a better life for her here,” he said.

Read more:

Telemundo Exposes ICE’s Aggressive Deportation of Abused & Abandoned Children

Two of our clients, who are 18 and 19 years old, are currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement despite being eligible for green cards as children abused and abandoned by their biological parents. In legal terms, they are special immigrant juveniles (SIJ).

We have written extensively on this issue here and here.

Note that ICE is flat out wrong when it claims SIJ is only available to children abused or abandoned in their native countries. The actual law states that a person only has to show that reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law.  8 U.S.C. § 1107(a)(27)(J)(i).

ICE leadership: We Prioritize The Removal of Special Immigrant Juveniles

Yesterday, San Francisco ICE denied the stay of removal of our client, a 19-year-old girl, even though she is clearly eligible for permanent residency as a special immigrant juvenile.

ICE headquarters affirmed San Francisco’s decision the same day.

At first, ICE did not explain why. We pressed them for an explanation and what they said is infuriating: ICE prioritizes the removal of individuals under the age of 21 but over 18 who are eligible for special immigrant juvenile status.

Specifically, ICE leadership said that our client was a priority because she was a recent illegal entrant with a final order of removal.

It was clear that the fact that she is eligible for permanent residency through special immigrant juvenile status does not matter.

ICE, you’ll be shocked to know, is in the business of removal, not of protecting vulnerable populations that Congress intended to help.

Although ICE will say that they consider prosecutorial discretion on a case by base basis, all individuals in our client’s situation–recent illegal entrants over the age of 18 eligible for SIJS–will be prioritized for removal despite being given a special path to a green card by Congress.

This is in direct contradiction with the June 17, 2011 Morton Memorandum which states that ICE should consider exercising discretion if a person can show they are eligible for permanent status in the United States.

This is wrong. ICE should create a policy to encourage the exercise of prosecutorial discretion for individuals over the age of 18 eligible for permanent residence through special immigrant juvenile status. Unfortunately, ICE will not do so unless they are forced to, either from Congress or through public pressure.

Call ICE headquarters at 202-732-3000 and request that they release from detention all individuals over the age of 18 who may be eligible for permanent residency as special immigrant juveniles. Tell them Bryan Johnson referred you.



ICE: Deporting Our Abused, Abandoned and Neglected Children


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has the power to deport, but it also has the power to issue bonds and parole immigrants into the United States.  Many guidelines have been made regarding ICE’s power of “prosecutorial discretion,” indicating which humanitarian considerations should be taken into account, and how.  Minors are one consideration, but there are no guidelines for children eligible for special immigrant juvenile status (“SIJS”).  The consequences are devastating.

Juveniles under the age of 18 are taken into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and released to an adult caregiver, but juveniles between the age of 18 and 21 are treated like adults– like criminals in adult detention facilities.

Under the federal regulations defining SIJS, the U.S. government considers anyone under the age of 21 to be a child.  In many States, individuals under the age of 21 are considered minors, and can be placed in the care of an adult who makes medical, educational, and legal decisions on their behalf.

Minors under the age of 21 who have been abandoned, neglected or abused by either one or both parents are classified as “special immigrant juveniles” and they are eligible for their green card.  But what happens when they come into the U.S. and are detained by DHS near the border?   Quite simply, ICE deports these abandoned, abused, and neglected children.  The lack of a specific and comprehensive prosecutorial discretion policy for these juveniles is inexcusable.

Let us look at the examples of two of our clients, who are currently at immediate risk of being deported because of ICE’s inhumane actions.  Let us call them “Ana” and “Jose” to protect their confidentiality.

Ana’s story.  Ana is a 19-year old citizen of El Salvador, who was abandoned by both parents when she was only one year old.  She was raised her whole life by her grandmother, who does not work and depends entirely on the charity of family members in the United States.   Her grandfather was killed when she was two years old, right next door to her.

Recently, Ana witnessed a man being killed in front of their home.  Because she was a crime witness, gang members told her that she had to join them, or she would be killed because of what she witnessed. One day a man attempted to rape her.   Because of Ana’s terrifying situation and lack of support, she fled El Salvador for the safety of our shores.

Because she has no parents, she was left even more vulnerable to the threats of gang members. She had no adult to protect her, or to give her guidance in the greatest time of need in her life.

Because of erroneous decisions by the asylum office and an immigration judge, her credible fear interview to determine whether she would be able to apply for asylum was denied.

But this should not matter. She should never have had to been detained for weeks to wait for an asylum interview. She should have been paroled immediately into the United States to be able to pursue her green card through special immigrant juvenile status.

On November 15, 2013, I filed an Application for a Stay of her Removal with the San Francisco Enforcement and Removal (“ERO”) Field Office, because Ana is an abandoned and neglected child who is eligible for her green card based on special immigrant juvenile status. Ana’s deportation officer told her that her deportation is scheduled for this Saturday.

Jose’s story.  Jose is a 18-year old citizen of El Salvador.  Growing up, he was abused by his violent and alcoholic father.  His father beat him and his mother for years, severely, and always came home intoxicated.  His home life was torturous.

Recently, members of the biggest gang in El Salvador, MS-13, tried to recruit Jose into their gang.  Jose refused, telling them that he was dedicated to good things and to God’s work, and he did not like doing bad things to good people.  As a result,  three gang members beat him with their hands and feet, took him by the neck, and tried to strangle him.  The gangs did not finish what they started because a witness drove by and they did not want to be caught.

Jose went to the doctor to treat the bruises all over his body.  He stopped going to school and did not leave his house for days, until he escaped El Salvador.

However, when he came to the United States, he did not pass his credible fear interview because the asylum officer did not believe that the government of El Salvador would acquiesce to his torture–despite the government’s well-documented connections with MS-13 and the U.S. government’s recognition of MS-13 as an “international criminal organization.”  An Immigration Judge erroneously affirmed the asylum officer’s decision by in essence requiring Jose to meet the burden of proof for a full-blown asylum hearing.

On November 14, 2013, we filed an Application for a Stay of Removal for Jose at the San Antonio Field Office, because he is eligible for special immigrant juvenile status if he is released.  There has not yet been a decision on his application, and he is at immediate risk of deportation just like Ana.

Congress made SIJS into law in order to protect young persons such as Jose and Ana. Congress also made the SIJS law to empower them, to give them a chance to become Americans despite having broken immigration laws in the past.

How does it go?  “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, but deport your abused, abandoned, and neglected children?”  No, there is something fundamentally wrong with this.  This is an urgent message to ICE:  Please, don’t deport our abused and abandoned juveniles.

There should be a specific screening and prosecutorial discretion policy for individuals under the age of 21 to determine if there is a possibility they could obtain lawful permanent residency through SIJS. If there is a positive screening decision, the individual should be paroled into the U.S. for the opportunity to pursue SIJS.

After Four Months in ICE Custody, Victim of Severe Domestic Violence Set to Be Released

Update: November 20, 2013: my client was released on her own recognizance by ICE and is on her way home.

My partner, Bryan Johnson, recently blogged about our client, a 21-year old victim of severe domestic violence who fled her native country of El Salvador to seek asylum in the United States.

This young woman was subjected to emotional and physical abuse by her ex-boyfriend, which finally culminated in his attempt to kill her unborn child by punching her repeatedly in the stomach while pregnant.  Her ex-boyfriend’s attacks are documented, as she went to the police the following day, but the authorities of El Salvador were not willing to protect her.

She has been detained since July 23, 2013, almost four months, contrary to ICE’s own policy relating to victims of domestic violence and other crimes, and treated like a criminal for attempting to save her own life. As a result, this traumatized young woman’s terror was ongoing, as she wondered whether, at any given moment, she would be returned to the country where the abuser is waiting to carry out his threats to kill her.

Initially, ICE set a “no bond” determination in her case, then lowered the bond to $7,500 after documentation of her traumatic experiences was provided.  Due to the family’s inability to afford the costs of a bond, or a private attorney in Texas, I appeared pro bono in an attempt to get the bond lowered.

Judge Powell of the Port Isabel Immigration Court actually increased the bond to $8,000, stating that my client’s economic situation is not a consideration and expressing doubts that a domestic violence can qualify for asylum, despite precedential cases (Matter of R-A, Matter of L-R-). Additionally, Judge Powell–without any basis–indirectly threatened me with a bar complaint simply for not being able to travel from New York to Texas on a pro bono case.

On November 4, 2013, I made a formal request with the Field Office of San Antonio to release my client pursuant to its own prosecutorial guidelines.  Meanwhile, the final court date of November 18, 2013, was looming; a court hearing I could not adequately prepare from New York, especially since the detention center had stopped allowing conference calls between clients and attorneys.

That same day, just minutes before the case was called, an ICE official indicated that he is disposed toward releasing my client on her own recognizance.  The case proceeded and my client said she is afraid for my life and pleaded for a bond; the Judge denied it, but agreed to continue the case given ICE’s indications that they would release my client.

Today, November 19, 2013, ICE officially gave word that my client will be imminently released.  While we cannot take away the fear and pain that our client experienced while detained by ICE, awaiting her fate day by day, and which other victims of domestic violence no doubt similarly face, we just may have saved a life.  Welcome home!


Blanca Maria Alfaro is again officially a U.S. citizen after the U.S. government illegally deported, exiled, and detained her.

Blanca Maria Alfaro is again officially a U.S. citizen after the U.S. government illegally deported, exiled, and detained her.

Blanca Maria Alfaro has always been a U.S. citizen. She was born in Houston, Texas on December 17, 1979.

In 1995, Blanca applied for and received a U.S. passport based on her Texas Birth Certificate.  In 1998, Blanca traveled from El Salvador to JFK International Airport in New York. She presented her U.S. passport for admission. The nightmare that ensued has finally ended today when she received her third U.S. passport after having been illegally deported, exiled, and detained over the course of the last 15 years.

The INS officials at the time did not believe Blanca was a U.S. citizen. She did not speak English because she grew up from the age of 5 in El Salvador. She was 18 and this was her first time coming back to her native land of the United States. In 1998 at JFK, INS officials unlawfully detained Blanca, interrogating her for hours and threatening her with serious bodily harm unless she admitted that she was not the person listed on her passport.

After hours of this relentless torture, Blanca supposedly made a false confession. She signed a “sworn statement”, written in English, that she was someone else and that she was born in El Salvador. This was a clear false confession, as can be seen from the evidence on record.

After being illegally deported to El Salvador, Blanca immediately went to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador to apply for a new U.S. passport. After a 9 month investigation, State Department officials issued Blanca her second U.S. passport.

Blanca was again subjected to a marathon interrogation when she attempted to enter the U.S. in 1999 with her second U.S. passport. If it were not for the intervention of a friendly INS official, she may have been deported again. She was released into the U.S. as a U.S. citizen in 1999 after a family member convinced INS officials that she was in fact a U.S. citizen.

Blanca entered the U.S. with her second U.S. passport again in 2001 and 2004 without incident. When she went to register her children as U.S. citizens in the Embassy in San Salvador in 2005, State Department officials unlawfully confiscated her second U.S. passport, essentially revoking her U.S. citizenship without affording her any due process of law.

For the second time, Blanca was stripped of her right to U.S. citizenship without any due process of law. Instead of giving Blanca a chance to confront evidence against her, the U.S. embassy officials in El Salvador told Blanca that the case was in Washington and nothing could be done.

As it turned out, State Department officials in Washington D.C. did nothing with Blanca’s case until her second U.S. passport was “revoked” in 2012 by a State Department attorney, who admitted to not having  nearly enough evidence to make a meaningful decision. In other words, the State Department broke the law several times: First when it confiscated her passport in 2005 and second when it inexplicably delayed the revocation decision for about 7 years.

Blanca realized that the U.S. government would never allow her to return to her native country of the United States. In March of 2013, she applied for admission to the U.S. at a border crossing in Texas, showing her Texas birth certificate, Social Security Card, and New York Photo identification as proof of U.S. citizenship.

Again, immigration officials did not believe Blanca. She was detained for 17 days until attorneys at ICE’s Office of Chief Counsel in Oakdale Louisiana released her from detention because they believed she was a U.S. citizen.

She was not out of the woods yet. ICE’s decision only meant that they would not affirmatively push for her deportation from the United States. Released into the U.S., she was stateless.

We became the attorneys for Blanca in April of this year. We always believed that she was a U.S. citizen, even when journalists and a Congressman abandoned Blanca because apparently the U.S. government can do no wrong unless the narrative is a crystal clear black and white.

Our perseverance paid off.

Today, Blanca’s U.S. citizenship was officially recognized for a third time.

The U.S. State Department issued her a U.S. passport.

Open Letter: Mother of Dream30 Member Responds to Congressman Gutierrez

The following is my translated version of Maria Irene Hernandez’s open letter in response to Congressman Gutierrez’s attacks on the parents of the Dream30, the NIYA, and the Dream30 themselves:

Louisburg, North Carolina, November 5, 2013.

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Maria Irene Hernandez, mother of one of the members of the #Dream30, Brandol J. Pahuamba. I want to express through this letter what I feel regarding what Congressman Luis Gutierrez said in his press release regarding us, the parents and sons and daughters of this group.

A couple of days ago, Congressman Gutierrez said that we were being manipulated and forced to do all of this. First off, we are not children who have to be told what to do, and our sons and daughters are not either. We are infuriated by this. It made us feel like we are like we are worth nothing and that we do not have our own capacity to think, talk, fight, or defend our sons and daughters.

I believe, as a mother, that when we refer to our children, family, loved ones, or our community, we are as capable as anyone to save a loved one. Unfortunately, the congresspersons do not see it that way. They think that we should bow down our heads, get down on our knees, and never fight for our rights. They are wrong. God gave all of our sons and daughters the ability to defend themselves without being “manipulated.”

Personally speaking, these organizers or “manipulators” as the Congressman calls the NIYA and the Dreamers, have been a constant source of support for me, for all of the parents and their children, and for the community. Despite their young age they know exactly what they are doing. But, how do they know? Because they have lived it. A person like that can move the world.

Thanks to them we have been reunited with our children, something that these politicians should have done. They are walking around all over the place promoting reform. As the saying goes, “there is a big gap between words and acts.”, but these young people have acted. They are acting for reform. These politicians should be ashamed of themselves; they talk about supporting an immigration reform, but they never do anything to reunite families!

The Congressman Gutierrez said that he will withdraw his support for these organizers, but I say, “What help?” The only thing that they have helped do is to deport two young persons, Rocio and Brandon. The Congressman Gutierrez and his colleagues in Congress know well that if they help these dreamers, more dreamers will come and that is what they do not want, the unity of family. If it were just for them, we all would have already been deported. He prefers to defend White Americans more than his own community. I have much more to say, I should write a book because there is so much; but maybe the Congressman is going to think that I cannot write it because I am Latina and undocumented.

What Mr. Gutierrez said was low and shameful coming from a Congressman. To attack his own community with indirect insults is the worst. We will continue to fight for our rights, despite what Gutierrez has said, we have the strength to confront the most powerful in this land. God himself said: “Be leaders, not followers; God will help those who help themselves.”

We will continue fighting for what we deserve. We will not stop until our dreams are a reality. It does not matter who tries to stop us, without a fight there is no battle nor a victory. We will fight for our children and for a just reform for all. Fighting is how one achieves change and for that no one needs to be “manipulated.” Thank you.

Sincerely, Maria Hernandez.


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