For Wendy Guix and her children, Legal Aid’s help made all the difference in keeping them together with less than 24 hours to spare.
Ms. Guix has been living in the U.S. for several years. Her children, Chelsea and Robyery, recently made the journey from Guatemala to the U.S. to be with her after their father had neglected and abandoned them. They needed Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a form of immigration relief for immigrant minors who cannot reunify with one of their parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. However, in order to obtain SIJS, Ms. Guix needed to obtain a custody order and requisite findings before Robyery and Chelsea turned 18.
“I had to migrate here to support my family and provide everything my kids needed back there," Ms. Guix said. "They decided one day to come here because they wanted to be with me. And well, the only person there who could care for them was my grandmother, but she was sick.”
Knowing that SIJS was the only available option for Robyery and Chelsea to remain in the United States with their mom, Legal Aid took the case and began working to draft the filings necessary for the required orders. Legal Aid attorney Julia Ward, along with the extraordinary support of two legal assistants, filed the pleadings with DC Superior Court and were scheduled for a hearing just four days before Chelsea’s 18th birthday.
At the hearing, the judge stated that she would not issue the required orders without giving Chelsea and Robyery’s father more time to respond. They had less than 24 hours to find another path.
“I contacted many organizations, but Legal Aid was the only one that returned my call," Ms. Guix said. "They understood me well and explained the entire process to me and what comes next, in order to help me. They gave me hope.”
Fortunately, Ms. Guix was able to find a phone number for Chelsea and Robyery’s father. Legal Aid legal assistant Eleni Reynolds reached out to him and after their conversation he was willing to consent, in writing, to Ms. Guix’s requests for custody and SIJS findings. The court agreed to holding a second hearing on the very last business day before Chelsea’s birthday. After hearing arguments and reviewing the evidence, the judge granted Ms. Guix’s request for custody and issued an order making the required SIJS findings. Following the hearing, Ms. Guix said that Chelsea would now have a very special 18th birthday.
Chelsea and Robyery remain clients of Legal Aid, as they now must seek SIJS through immigration court. In the coming years, after their application is approved and they wait for an available visa, Legal Aid will request that their removal proceedings be terminated and that they be permitted to apply for and receive Legal Permanent Residency.