Written by Staff Attorney, Jennifer Healey
Danny* fled Honduras when he was just 6 years old, but he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know that powerful narco traffickers murdered his father and then came after him, threatening to do the same. He doesn’t know that returning to his country means returning to a death sentence. About two years ago, Maria* (Danny’s mother) came to Just Neighbors to ask for help with her son’s immigration case. She provided piles of documentary evidence and detailed explanations of the events that led to the murder of Danny’s father and subsequent threats against her young child. While I worked with Maria to prepare Danny’s application for asylum, she did everything she could to keep her child a child. She wanted him to remain unaware of the horrific events that forced him out of his country.
We filed Danny’s application for asylum in the early spring of 2019. Countless policy, regulatory, and legal changes made his case challenging. I argued that Danny is an “unaccompanied alien child” and as such, statutorily entitled to an interview with an asylum officer, rather than prosecution in front of an immigration judge. After solving that threshold issue—the Arlington Asylum Office accepted jurisdiction over his case—we continued to battle legal changes. Over the course of the last few years, various agencies within the executive branch have made repeated efforts to restrict—if not eliminate—protections for asylum-seekers that fled gang-related and family-based violence. Danny fled both, so we knew that his case was a longshot. Thankfully, the different branches of government challenge one another, and the Fourth Circuit (judiciary) has consistently ruled in favor of individuals fleeing the type of harm that Danny did, so we relied on those cases.
Danny interviewed at the Arlington Asylum Office in August of 2020. It was a virtual, in-person interview. The asylum officer, Danny and Maria, Kim Garcia (translator extraordinaire), and I (attorney) were all situated in separate rooms and the interview was completed by videoconference. Danny was unphased by the whole process, thanks to his mother’s efforts to take on the heavy weight of his case, herself. During the interview, he entertained himself by making funny faces at himself in the monitor. It was wonderful to see an asylum-seeking interviewee at ease—I’ve never seen that reaction before! He answered several questions and then left the office so that Maria could provide a full explanation of the events that occurred in Honduras. Maria testified beautifully and Kim provided excellent translation, despite challenging, technical content. We left the interview that day without knowing how long it would take for the asylum office to reach a decision. These are challenging times for everyone and wait times are only growing longer for most of our clients.
Last week, I received some mail for Danny. It was an approval notice—his application for asylum was granted! This means that he can remain in this country and apply for lawful permanent residency in one year. Danny can continue to enjoy his childhood—and make faces into cameras—for years to come. Thanks to Maria and Just Neighbors, Danny is free.
*Name changed to preserve confidentiality.