A young man from Guatemala who crossed the U.S. border in 2014 recently learned he has been granted asylum by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.
He is one of tens of thousands of Central American youth who entered the U.S. illegally during a surge of border crossings that continued through last year. The children and teens, mostly males, were often unaccompanied by adults and turned themselves into Border Patrol after arriving.
“I’m happy because I have a job and I can pursue what I want,” said Santos Ramirez, now 18 years old, speaking in his native Spanish.
Ramirezapplied for political asylum with the assistance of an immigration attorney shortly after he arrived. He claimed he was a victim of domestic violence because his father was abusive and forced him to work rather than attend school.
“It (Ramirez's case) says the system generally works,” said Monika Sud-Devaraj, Ramirez’s attorney. “He applied for political asylum. He was given the opportunity to present his case. He was interviewed by immigration, and he was approved.”
But Ramirez may be an exception to the rule.
He gained “derivative asylum” based on the fact his brother was already in the U.S. after having been granted asylum himself. Ramirez also had financial means to obtain an attorney who helped him through the process.
Since 2014, many cities have developed or expanded shelters for the unaccompanied minors. The children are believed to be scattered across the U.S. in homes of relatives and sponsor families. An advocate for young immigrants says many of them never obtained proper legal advice and ended up falling out of the legal system or moving to another state.
“It’s a very small amount of people that we see have gained benefits of the process,” said Ruben Reyes, an attorney and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “It’s a proven statistic where individuals who had an attorney able to walk them through their defense were better able to represent their interests and win their cases.”
The next step for Ramirez is to apply for permanent legal residence. He says he would like to earn his GED or high school diploma but he is currently not attending school. He acknowledges that many Americans don’t agree with policies that allow border crossers like him to stay in the U.S.
His message to the community?
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to stay here, to start a new life and for not forcing me to go back to my country, where I will be mistreated,” he said.