This year, a mother and her seven-year-old daughter will spend Thanksgiving together in gratitude and hope for the first time since they arrived in the United States in 2015 in search of safety and protection. Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, we’re celebrating the story of a Salvadoran family and the Justice Fellow who zealously represented them.
Hannah Strauss is a second year Justice Fellow at Catholic Charities Community Services New York. As a Justice Fellow, she provides free, quality legal assistance to low-income immigrants in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley. Last month, Hannah won her first asylum case!
“This was my first asylum case as a recently admitted attorney. This case hammered home the importance of representation. In an immigration system that constantly requires asylum seekers to remember and recount the most traumatic parts of their past, having a trusted advocate to navigate the legal process is invaluable.”
Hannah’s client, Ms. H, fled gang and domestic violence in El Salvador with her baby when she was only 21 years old. Ms. H had been represented by Justice Fellows at Catholic Charities since 2016, but her individual merits hearing was rescheduled multiple times, usually at the last minute with little to no notice. When the courts closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, Ms. H was left waiting in limbo, wondering if she would be allowed to stay in the United States.
When the courts reopened in July of this year, Ms. H’s individual hearing was scheduled for the end of October. However, the court repeatedly switched the judges assigned to the case as well as the court date. With only a few weeks before the rescheduled early-October hearing, Hannah discussed the new date with Ms. H, and assured her that she would make sure she felt prepared for the hearing.
Hannah had less than thirty days to prepare. On the day of the hearing, Ms. H recounted the threats of violence she faced in El Salvador, how her pleas for help from the police went unanswered and her tortious journey with a seventeen-month-old toddler to reach safety. Ms. H did a fantastic job expressing herself and explaining to the judge why she could not return to El Salvador. Her testimony was so powerful that the judge granted her asylum application that same day, and the government attorney waived the opportunity for appeal.
“You could see the relief in my client’s face after finding out that she had won asylum,” Hannah said.
Ms. H’s case illustrates how long asylum cases take and how quality representation makes all the difference for immigrants who’ve suffered tremendous hardship.
“Thanks to Hannah’s zealous advocacy, the client and her daughter were granted asylum based on fear of future persecution,” said Lesly Santos, an IJC alum and Community Legal Clinic Lead Project Attorney at Catholic Charities of New York. “We are all extremely proud of Hannah for winning her first Merits Hearing and for helping a long-time client finally feel safe and stable in the United States.”
Without competent counsel like Hannah, thousands are deported even though they have viable claims to immigration benefits. But with your support, we’re building the capacity of legal service providers and community-based organizations to pave the way towards universal representation for all immigrants.