NEW YORK: Catholic Charities’ Immigrant and Refugee Services legal staff continue to support immigrants and refugees in need each day, addressing and responding to new and continuing needs. The legal team focuses on direct immigration legal services ranging from consultations to full representation and most recently found success in working with Rebeca. Here is her story.
“My immigration journey started when I stepped foot in Guatemala in September 2005, crossing the border from Honduras on my way to the United States. At sixteen, life was very bad at home for many reasons, and I needed to leave all that I had known. Within hours of entering the United States, I was taken into the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. I was transferred from Texas to a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Florida where I appeared before an immigration judge. Because I was a minor, the court located a relative in New York and I was whisked away to live with him within days.
In New York, life was difficult. My relative did not want me in his home, and he kicked me out shortly after I had arrived. He kept my immigration papers, refusing to return any of it to me. But I persevered and was introduced to a few other people like me – other Honduran teenagers who had come to the United States alone – and we became like a family. One of these friends introduced me to the man who was representing him in immigration court. He agreed to represent me, as well, and we exchanged phone numbers with a promise to call me once my case had been scheduled in New York. I waited, and I waited. My calls were never returned, and he was never at his office. I didn’t know what to do. I was a teenager and, for all intents and purposes, alone.
In the following years, I created a life in New York and became a mother. I volunteered at my children’s school, assisting the teachers whose classrooms began to balloon with newly arrived students from Central America in the 2010s. Each child reminded me why I came to the United States, and in 2017 I decided to sit down with an attorney to unravel the mystery of my immigration status.
I sought help from an attorney named Jessica. She learned that the man who represented me ten years earlier may have provided the wrong address to the court on my behalf. As a result, I never received court orders, did not show up for court dates, and was ordered deported from the United States in May 2007. Although I had suspicions that I had been given a deportation order, this confirmation crushed me. It wasn’t just about me anymore. I felt my world and the hopes that I held for my children unraveling, but Jessica calmly assured that I had options. She explained strategies – and the risks of each – to stabilize my future in the United States. The request to reopen my case was denied by the immigration court. It was devastating but Jessica appealed the decision to the immigration appellate court. Seven months later, she called to tell me that the appellate court had issued its decision, and I sobbed tears of happiness and relief. I had been given the opportunity to argue my case in front of a judge, and four years later, I’m a Green Card-holder.
I’m grateful that my children and I now have a safe, stable future in the United States. I’m also angry that it took almost fifteen years. I trusted the wrong person to represent and assist me in immigration court as a teenager and because of that decision, I was robbed of ten years of opportunities. I learned that it isn’t enough to just have an attorney represent you in a court. It needs to be an attorney who fights and advocates for you, and who is honest with you and believes in you. I’m grateful that I found that representation at Catholic Charities.”