Racheal came to Community Legal Aid, she appeared to be a strong teenager, well on her way to a bright future. She worked hard at school, was well-liked by peers and teachers, had an after-school babysitting job, and dreamed of attending college the next year. Underneath this surface, however, was an undocumented immigrant child, abandoned in the United States by the aunt who had cared for her most of her life. Racheal was born in Ghana to teenage parents with little money, education, or opportunity. Unable to care for Racheal themselves, her parents “gave” Racheal to a paternal aunt. When Racheal was twelve years old, her aunt, a church leader, moved to the United States with her. Racheal’s aunt established and led a small church for about three years, but the church did not flourish, and the aunt decided to return to Ghana without Racheal. Racheal was sixteen, her mother was dead, her father was seriously ill, and her aunt had abandoned her.During the time it took Racheal to find her way to CLA, she continued to attend school and was cared for by church members, although she had no formal guardian and no clear future. Fortunately, one of CLA’s immigration attorneys recognized that Racheal’s circumstances appeared to qualify her for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, which, if granted, would allow Racheal to apply for permanent legal resident status. Time was an issue; only children under the age of eighteen are eligible to apply for SIJ status, and Racheal was just months shy of her eighteenth birthday.
The SIJ application process is complex and requires coordination with the court system and immigration authorities. Over a ten-week period, CLA attorneys accompanied Racheal to court four times, petitioned for appointment of a legal guardian and for a court investigation into Racheal’s living and custodial circumstances, and successfully got the court to issue the documentation that was needed for Racheal's immigration case. Once the court process was complete, CLA successfully requested that Racheal be approved for Special Immigrant Juvenile status. The process was completed days before Racheal’s eighteenth birthday. Today, Racheal has been accepted to two colleges and is enjoying the chance to plan her future. When asked to reflect on her experience with Community Legal Aid, Racheal says, “I thank you guys. I feel like I’m going somewhere in my life and my future’s getting brighter.”