Rachel and Angela M.: A Rare Glimpse Into the Lives of Two Girls Who Fled Danger and Abuse In Search of a Country That Could Provide a Safe Haven
by Mary McKelvey
I was privileged to serve on a team of attorneys from my firm who were able to obtain two rare asylum victories, in a pro bono matter, for two young girls from Honduras who fled horrific abuse and an unbearable existence. The girls will say asylum saved their lives and gave them an opportunity at living the lives they had previously only dreamt of. I will say it allowed me a rare glimpse of the unbelievable courage, perseverance and amazing bond of two pre-teen aged sisters who risked everything for a chance for freedom from abuse, constant danger and servitude and an opportunity for a better life.
The two sisters, Rachel and Angela M., are members of a group frequently referred to as Unaccompanied Alien Children (“UAC”). UAC are defined in statute as children who lack lawful immigration status in the United States, who are under the age of 18, and who either are without a parent or legal guardian in the United States or without a parent or legal guardian in the United States who is available to provide care and physical custody. Last year almost 60,000 UAC were apprehended at the Southwest border while attempting to enter the United States, up from approximately 16,000 in 2011.
Our team was introduced to the sisters approximately three years ago and not long after the girls had arrived in the United States through Public Counsel, an organization who is dedicated to protecting the legal rights of disadvantaged children and immigrants. The sisters were 6 and 7 years old when their physical, sexual and psychological abuse began in their Honduran household. The cruel and regular emotional, sexual and physical abuse, which resulted in permanent scars and emotional trauma, continued through ages 11 and 12 when they finally fled the country, undertaking an arduous and dangerous journey. Rachel and Angela were treated like servants in their childhood household and were subjected to repeated sexual and physical abuse after their father passed away in a tragic accident, leaving them without a parent or protector in the country. At one point, one of the girls tried to take her own life because she felt death was preferable to the existence she endured.
Human rights violations and domestic abuse are common for young women living in Honduras. In 2013, Honduras was ranked as having the highest murder rate in the world. Corruption, poverty, gang violence and government willful ignorance all key roles in perpetuating this dangerous environment, especially for young women. Living conditions for Rachel and Angela were riddled with abuse and they were left with no recourse, due in large part to widespread police corruption and lack of any public agency willing or able to provide protection to abused children.
After years of sexual abuse, psychological abuse and beatings that resulted in hospital visits, Rachel and Angela escaped from their home and navigated through several countries over the course of a long month to make it to the United States where they connected with family members.
Last month, after more than two years, and against many odds, our team was informed that the hard work and perseverance of the girls and the attorneys had paid off and that the girls, now age 14 and 15, were finally granted asylum in the United States. The journey took an enormous amount of courage from Rachel and Angela, coupled with many hours from the Polsinelli team attorneys and support staff with support from Public Counsel to achieve this hard-earned result.
Both girls are thriving in the United States. They are great students, have mastered the English language and are excited about the chance at life. Angela dreams of becoming a lawyer and helping others who suffer the abuse she was exposed to. Rachel is interested in medicine and has a passion for art.
Founded in 1970, Public Counsel works with law firms and volunteers through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers. They strive to achieve three main goals: protecting the legal rights of disadvantaged children; representing immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and fostering economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. For more information about in taking a pro bono case or volunteering, please sign up online or call their Director of Pro Bono, David Daniels at 213/385-2977 x101 for more information.
Mary McKelvey is the WLALA Communications Officer. Ms. McKelvey is a Partner at Polsinelli.