In June, part of our communion rail offering will go to Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors. JFON is a United Methodist-affiliated immigration ministry that provides free or low-cost legal advice and services. Austin JFON has been operating for one year, and is changing lives. Here is one story of its work.
David’s Journey (name changed)
David was born into violence. Even during his mother’s pregnancy, his father beat her and left them without support for long periods of time. When David was two, they finally escaped to live with family in another village who protected them when his father came looking. Thanks to his family and his mother’s courage, David never saw his father again.
David stayed with his grandmother when his mother came to the United States in 2012 for work. As he got older, however, David became a target for gang recruitment. Gang members repeatedly followed him to school, threatened to kill his family, and attacked him with knives. With only enough money for a bus ticket to Guatemala, David started the dangerous journey to the U.S. on his own.
While riding on top of a train into Mexico, David was kidnapped at gunpoint; unable to pay the ransom, he was beaten and locked in a small room by himself. He managed to escape and completed his journey to Texas—on foot. After two days lost in the desert, David says “I was hungry and thirsty… desperate and afraid for my life.” He found Border Patrol agents, who took him into custody. Finally, after seven long months, David was released to live with his mother on New Year’s Day, 2015.
We received a referral for David’s case from another non-profit organization on January 30, 2015. The case was urgent because David would turn 18 on April 22, 2015, and the custody portion of the case needed to be completed before that date. David and his mother live in a county outlying Austin where fewer Special Immigrant Juvenile custody cases have been tried in the past.
ARJFON attorneys prepared the custody documents and obtained the necessary Waiver of Service from David’s father in Honduras, which was the most difficult and time-sensitive step. In court, David’s mother testified about the trials she and David had faced, and why she did not believe it would be in David’s best interests to return to Honduras. The state court judge signed the custody order, and we submitted the application for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Status—all before his 18th birthday. On May 16, David became the first ARJFON client to be granted SIJ status through funding from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR.
Now that David has SIJ Status, he’s safe from deportation. He now qualifies for our next step, which is to help him to become a permanent resident. This will allow David to reside legally in the United States for the rest of his life, and after five years as a permanent resident, David can apply to become a United States citizen. David says he looks forward to continuing his education and is considering a career in engineering or architecture. We at JFON Austin look forward to having David as our neighbor and to helping him every step along the path toward citizenship!