Alejandra is a child facing deportation in the New York immigration court. Safe Passage Project met her in court and a Law Fellow in our office now represents her. Alejandra is a child who is seeking protection as a refugee. We will be walking to support her and other refugees on June 20, 2015, the International Day of the Refugee. Help us support Alejandra by joining our walk or making a donation. Your support enables Safe Passage Project to assist children like Alejandra.
Alejandra is an 11-year-old who is seeking asylum. She grew up in El Salvador. When she was a baby her father left for the United States. Eight years later her mother followed. Her parents were forced into this difficult choice by extreme poverty and the lack of opportunity in El Salvador, a country that has suffered both from long civil wars and now from increasing disruption by corruption and gang activity.
Alejandra stayed behind in El Salvador, and lived comfortably, at first, with her grandmother. But sadly, a few months after Alejandra’s mother left for the United States, Alejandra’s situation changed. Her grandmother and uncle became abusive and began to beat Alejandra frequently, leaving her skin bruised from belt marks. Alejandra remembered nights where they locked her in the shed outside and made her sleep on the floor with no blanket, pillow, or bed. Alejandra said there were days they gave her no food and she would have to find a way to feed herself. Her uncle often had his friends come over to drink alcohol with him. On those days the men would often try to touch her. Alejandra began to fear being at home. This abuse continued for several years.
When Alejandra was ten she told her parents that she was afraid to stay in El Salvador. Both parents were distraught. There was no one else in the country Alejandra could turn to. The El Salvadoran government has few resources, if any, to protect young children from physical abuse. Her parents also had no way to bring Alejandra to the United States and protect her. Desperate, Alejandra left for the United States. She travelled for a month with a group of other immigrants. While in Mexico, Alejandra and her group were captured by the Zetas, a notorious Mexican gang. The Zetas held Alejandra and her group for ransom. The gang members called Alejandra’s parents and threatened to kill her. Alejandra was terrified. Her parents sent money to the Zetas twice before they released her. She finally arrived in the United States in June of 2014.
At the U.S. border, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol apprehended Alejandra. At first, Alejandra was afraid she would immediately be sent back to El Salvador. She hesitantly told the officers who interviewed her about her fear of returning. She was sent, with other immigrant children, to a detention center managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. There, staff contacted her parents and eventually, Alejandra was released to her parent’s custody. The family was told they must report to the immigration court for a hearing to determine if Alejandra would remain in the United States.
Under U.S. law there is no right to free counsel in removal or deportation proceedings even for children. Safe Passage Project goes to the immigration court in New York once a week and screens children appearing for their hearings. The Law Fellow at Safe Passage is now helping Alejandra prepare her claim for asylum or refugee protection.
Alejandra is adamant that she never wants to return to El Salvador. Now that she has been reunited with her parents in the United States she is eager to learn English, and feels safe at home. We are hopeful that the Asylum Office will grant her claim for protection. If her claim is not granted, Alejandra will be entitled to a trial before an immigration judge. Without an attorney, her chances of winning her case are very small. Some studies have estimated that having an attorney to aid a child makes it 13 times more likely the child will not be deported.
Show your support for Alejandra and young refugees like her by joining our walk or making a donation.