An abused mother and her daughter escape one danger only to face another.

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When Elena¹ finally escaped from her abusive ex-husband, she knew that she and her 13-year-old daughter Cristina would not be truly safe unless they left Honduras. Elena’s ex-husband was involved with a dangerous street gang, and he and his fellow gang members could reach her anywhere in the country – putting her life and her daughter’s life in danger. To get away, Elena made the brave decision to take her daughter on the long journey to the United States-Mexico border. There, she hoped that they both could apply for asylum, to stay in safety in the U.S.

When Elena and Cristina presented themselves to immigration officials at the border, Elena explained that she was afraid to return to Honduras. Under U.S. law, she should have been interviewed to determine if her fears were credible, but this never occurred.

Then, the unthinkable happened: U.S. officials forcibly separated Elena and Cristina, so that Elena could be prosecuted criminally for crossing the border illegally. No one told Elena where they were taking her 13-year-old daughter or how Elena could reach her. Elena was rushed through her legal proceedings. It was not until several weeks later that she was able to speak to her daughter again – no thanks to the officials, but rather because a relative managed to find out Cristina’s contact information and get it to Elena. She learned that Cristina had been sent to a foster family in the Northeast, where, lonely and frightened, the young girl had fallen into a deep depression.

Two months later, having spoken to her daughter only a handful of times, Elena was deported – right back to the life-threatening situation she fled in the first place. As soon as she arrived, her ex-husband and other gang members began to stalk her, and Elena had to once again go into hiding. She was desperate to see her daughter, but she knew that Cristina could not return to Honduras, or she would be in danger too.

A Justice in Motion Defender first spoke to Elena in August, as part of Justice in Motion’s efforts to help reunify families under the ACLU’s Ms. L. v. ICE class action lawsuit. It took two months for our on-the-ground Defender to make contact with Elena, who was deep in hiding. When we finally reached her, our Defender explained the legal processes underway in the U.S. and Elena’s options for her family. Armed with this information, Elena made the heartbreaking choice to have her daughter stay in the U.S., rather than put her life in danger by having her returned to Central America.

We informed the government of Elena’s wishes, but our work was not yet over. Understanding that Elena was in immediate and serious danger, we worked with our partners to refer her to a legal organization, Al Otro Lado, that could evaluate Elena’s case and give her specialized guidance as she sought protection.

Elena needed safety, and for that, she again needed to leave Central America. Our on-the-ground Defender helped Elena to meet with Al Otro Lado and to collect the documents she needed to support her case and reunite with Cristina. We hoped that Elena would be able to return to the U.S. to seek protection through the Ms. L. v. ICE litigation. But as the U.S. government shut-down in early 2019 stalled any hopes of getting Elena quickly to safety, her advocates realized they needed to take a different tack if they were going to help Elena out of danger.

As a result, Elena joined a group of 28 other parents, all of whom had been seeking asylum but were separated from their children by the U.S. government. The group lawfully traveled together through Mexico to the southern U.S. border to present their cases. On their journey, Justice in Motion Defenders helped to arrange safe houses and transportation, and they made sure that Elena and others had the documents and information they needed to present their cases accurately. In March, Elena and the other parents presented themselves at the U.S. border. Elena spent six weeks in detention while she waited for her credible fear interview. An incredible community of lawyers and advocates worked tirelessly to keep Elena and these brave parents in the media spotlight and fight for their freedom.

In early April, Elena passed her interview, and she was finally released after more than a month in detention. With help from her lawyers and many other advocates, Elena was reunited with Cristina. They are now staying with a family in the U.S., where they can pursue their asylum cases in peace – far from the dangers they faced in Honduras.

We are proud of, and humbled by, the incredible efforts our partners and Defenders have made to ensure that these separated families’ legal rights are respected. The fight is not over, as families confront an increasingly restrictive asylum system and seek justice for the harms they suffered.

With your help, we will continue to work across borders to ensure that no parent or child is forgotten, and to uphold the rights and dignities of all migrants and their families.


We thank Together Rising and an incredible community of donors for making this work possible.

¹All names and identifying details, including country of origin, have been changed for privacy and confidentiality.

If your children were not safe, what would you do?

Disengaging from an abusive relationship can be difficult and often legal issues just intensify the emotional ones. But in many countries, legal protections on paper do not produce real help in practice. Then what? 

 

A Guatemalan mother fleeing an abusive ex-partner went to San Francisco to seek safety for herself and her three children, ages 10, 15, and 17. Because the father was abusive, the children were eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile status. A local community organization began proceedings but they hit a snag when a US family court required that sole custody be granted to the mother. For this to happen, the father in Guatemala City had to be informed in person and agree to give up custody. 

 

Having heard that the father might be in prison, and if not in prison, could be dangerous when drunk, the mother was reluctant to send a family member to serve the notice. Instead, the immigration attorney contacted Justice in Motion to send a professional to carry out this crucial part of the process. A Defender from the Justice in Motion Network in Guatemala City tracked down the father, served the notice, and obtained his signature agreeing to give up custody of the children. 

 

As a result of the Defender’s efficient actions, the mother won sole custody and the children’s petition is now pending before US immigration authorities. Feeling safe and relieved, the children are in school and doing well. Hopefully they will receive their green cards and a shot at the opportunities all children deserve.

Bread on the table.

From your favorite local sandwich shop to the newest 5-star restaurant, there’s likely a hard-working cook or dishwasher in the back of the house. It might surprise you how many of these people are migrant workers and how often they are cheated by restauranteurs to increase profitability. It’s called wage theft. 

Antonio worked at a restaurant in Arkansas where wage theft was rampant, including unpaid overtime. Learning about the restaurant’s practices, students at the University of Arkansas Law School wanted to help Antonio recover his stolen wages. To represent him, they needed his signature on legal documents, but Antonio had already returned home to Guanajuato, Mexico. 

The students thought they had reached an impasse but then learned about Justice in Motion and reached out for help. Justice in Motion contacted one of their human rights Defenders in Mexico. The Defender traveled to Guanajuato, met with Antonio, and got the necessary signatures for the case to move forward. 

This ultimately led to a large settlement for Antonio involving tens of thousands of dollars. It may also lead to settlements on behalf of other workers at the same restaurant. For the students, this case demonstrated that justice can be served, even across borders. For restaurant workers everywhere, it sends the message to restauranteurs that wage theft will not be tolerated.

He saved the forest. And your home.

Most people think indentured servitude ended long ago in the United States, but that’s not entirely true. 

A private forestry company recruited dozens of workers from the rural Mexican state of Chiapas to thin and clear forest brush on federal land. The workers were brought to theUS and told that they would be able to work for eight months. 

Upon arriving, they were housed in a makeshift labor camp and given only a few hours of work each week. When they were paid — for just a fraction of the hours they had been promised — they found that additional deductions had been taken from their wages for rent, travel from Mexico, and other unauthorized and unexplainable expenses. Between the limited hours they worked and these deductions, the wages were so low that they didn’t even have enough money to buy food. When the workers complained and tried to remedy the situation with US authorities, the company summarily fired them. 

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the workers. Justice in Motion was called upon to locate a number of the workers in Chiapas to gather information and signed documents from them for the case. After a long legal process, the forestry company finally paid up. The recovered money made a big difference in the workers’ lives. One worker used his recovered wages to expand his small grocery business, eliminating the need to migrate again. 

They were promised the minimum wage. They received far less.

 

Even worse, some employers fake paying the minimum wage by demanding kickback payments from workers after the check is cashed. This is what happened to Guatemalan and Mexican workers who were also cheated out of travel reimbursements owed them.

A lawsuit was brought against the unscrupulous employer by US lawyers on behalf of 20 Mexican workers. After learning that Guatemalan workers had suffered the same abuses, a Justice in Motion Defender was engaged to locate the workers who had by then returned to Guatemala.

The Defender traveled to remote villages, locating five workers. He educated them about their rights and helped them with the necessary paperwork to opt-in to the lawsuit.  

The addition of the five Guatemalan workers helped strengthen the case for the Mexican workers, and a settlement of $1,000 to $2,000 was finally paid to each plaintiff.

 

Wow. What a beautiful tree.

Fifteen years ago, migrant workers from Mexico who came to the US as Christmas tree workers were subjected to substandard living conditions in a dilapidated hotel.  

Broken toilets, no heat, cockroaches, rats, and leaking ceilings were just a few of the issues that confronted these workers. Once they returned to their homes in Mexico, there was little hope that they would receive compensation for suffering such squalid living conditions.

Ultimately, a legal aid organization in Virginia stepped in and sued the owners of the hotel and won a housing discrimination lawsuit on behalf of these workers. The organization was then able to distribute the money from this case to all but three workers who had returned to Mexico.  

After fifteen years of futile attempts to locate the other workers, Justice in Motion was called in to help facilitate a solution. Through our Defender Network, we were able to immediately identify a local partner who had deep ties to the migrant community in Oaxaca, where these workers were believed to be located. The three workers were quickly found and subsequently awarded the long-overdue damages.

Sally’s journey crossed boundaries and borders.

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Being who you are can be difficult, but for some people it’s life threatening.   Sally’s transition from male to female made her vulnerable to harassment and even attack—she was thrown out of a window, suffering a traumatic head injury in which part of her skull was permanently damaged. As a victim of crime committed in the US, Sally, a Honduran citizen, was eligible for a visa to stay in the US legally but she was never informed of this right.   Sally remained in the US, but years later, was detained for immigration violations. While in detention, an advocacy group realized Sally’s eligibility for a visa due to the hate crime. Lawyers initiated the process, but before they could get her released, local immigration authorities unlawfully and forcibly deported Sally back to Honduras.   Those trying to help Sally had no idea where she was and no way to contact her. Knowing Honduras to be hostile to transgender people, compounded by her vulnerability due to the head injury, they were extremely concerned about her safety. That’s when they reached out to Justice in Motion for help.   Justice in Motion immediately contacted a member of the Defender Network in Honduras. Within one hour, the Defender located Sally and put her in touch with her lawyers. They are currently fighting to keep her safe and bring her back to the US.

He wanted to be a police officer.

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Recreational drugs may seem harmless, but the cartels that supply them harm anyone who gets in their way. To commit their crimes with impunity, the drug cartels even threaten the police, preventing them from doing their jobs. Romualdo had a dream of becoming a police officer one day. He wanted to help restore order in his home country of Guatemala, and after passing the police exam, was looking forward to living his dream. But when the local cartel heard he was going to become a police officer they initiated a threatening campaign of fear tactics. Eventually, fearing for his life, Romualdo fled to the US and sought asylum in an immigration proceeding. He had only three weeks to prove he was being persecuted for wanting to be a police officer. The lawyer representing Romualdo knew they would have to produce proof that his client had actually taken the police exam, although he also knew that proof would be difficult to obtain. He reached out to Justice in Motion who contacted a Defender in Guatemala to get the necessary evidence. The Defender got the critical evidence to the lawyer before the deadline. Upon hearing the good news, Romualdo broke down in tears.

There’s a bittersweet story behind that juicy orange

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Did you know that harvesting oranges can be backbreaking work or that migrants may have been exploited to increase profits? Mexican farmworkers carrying up to 110 pounds of oranges around their necks were pressured to pick quickly. Guaranteed $9.96/hour, they ended up being paid by the satchel instead, earning less than promised and less than minimum wage. A lawsuit was filed in Florida on behalf of the exploited workers. The court required signatures within 15 days but many of the workers had already returned to Mexico. Undeterred by the dangers ahead, a Justice in Motion Defender drove for more than two hours into a remote and politically unstable region of Oaxaca to get a worker’s signature. Finding that heavy rains had washed away the road, she continued on foot for another 2 hours until she found the worker. The Defender’s efforts paid off. Damages were awarded to the plaintiffs and working conditions improved. The broader positive outcome was that these and other workers were empowered to speak out against disrespect and abuse.