This spring, HIRC at GBLS concluded another successful semester with a victory for a longtime client, bringing to a close her fifteen-year fight to stay in the United States. Supervised by John Willshire and Nancy Kelly, Jonathan George ’23 and Connie Cheng ’23 worked on the asylum case of an indigenous Maya K’iche’ woman from Guatemala, Sofia*, who has called Massachusetts home for nearly two decades.
Sofia first applied for asylum after being detained in the 2007 ICE raid on the Michael Bianco factory. In 2009, Sofia’s application was denied, and the BIA rejected her appeal in 2010. Then, represented by new counsel (HIRC at GBLS), she applied for and was granted a stay of removal, which was repeatedly extended through 2017.
In 2017, when the Trump administration adopted a policy of denying extensions of stays for similarly situated persons, Sofia and her team at HIRC at GBLS sought to reopen her case based on changed country conditions. However, while Sofia’s motion to reopen was pending before the BIA, the Trump administration deported her back to Guatemala. Five months later, the BIA denied her motion, which HIRC at GBLS then appealed to the First Circuit.
In late 2019, Sofia prevailed in her appeal, and the First Circuit remanded her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but it was not until November of 2021 that she was paroled back into the U.S. Upon Sofia’s return, it was clear that the three-and-a-half years she spent in Guatemala had taken a physical and mental toll.
Through a series of interviews with Sofia and her husband, the HIRC at GBLS team learned that her fears had been realized: she had been targeted, threatened, and assaulted while in Guatemala. Though her experiences were painful to recount, she wanted to be heard. Based on this new information, Jon and Connie set out to prepare new affidavits, facilitate a psychological evaluation, gather additional evidence on the changed country conditions, and draft a request for prosecutorial discretion. They worked intensively with Sofia to prepare her for her court hearing, working together to craft a direct examination that would allow Sofia to tell her story and to anticipate questions that she might face on cross examination.
On April 20, Sofia finally had her chance to be heard by the immigration court. Dressed in traditional Maya attire, she testified about the past persecution she had experienced in Guatemala and described the life she had built with her children and husband in the U.S. After a direct examination by Jon and Connie and a brief cross-examination, the Immigration Judge announced that she was granting Sofia asylum.
Outside the courtroom, one of Sofia’s first calls was to her children so that she could let them know that they would not be separated again. Sofia’s victory also means that her husband, also a Guatemalan asylum seeker, will be given asylum in the U.S. as a derivative of her claim, and that they can be reunited with their son who remains in Guatemala. Sofia was overcome with emotion after finally being heard in a very respectful manner by the Immigration Judge and knowing that her son would soon be out of danger and reunited with her in the U.S. Back at the office, over tamales and cake, Connie and Jon got started on Sofia’s petitions for her son and husband.
*Name has been changed to protect client confidentiality.