Asylum Protects the Most Vulnerable


Elisa Carlos, her husband Mario, and their two young children arrived at the U.S./Mexico border in 2015. They had fled their home in El Salvador after receiving relentless death threats, and needed protection from the gang violence there. The journey was dangerous, but the family hoped they would find refuge together in the U.S.

Escaping Horrific Violence

After the Carlos’ eldest son was gunned down by one of the country’s dreaded “maras” (street gangs), the gang terrorized the grieving family and threatened to kill them if they cooperated with law enforcement. When an extended family member testified that the Carlos’ son had been killed by one of the maras, the gang retaliated by shooting the Carlos’ other son. This son miraculously survived, but the family continued to receive violent threats.

One night the Carlos’ home was broken into and ransacked, and soon after the gang members demanded that they pay weekly bribes. Unable to escape their endless threats, Elisa and her family left everything they owned and fled.

Separated at the Border

When the Carlos family arrived at the U.S. border, they were told by immigration officials that they would be separated. Neither Elisa nor Mario were permitted to stay with their children; they were sent to detention centers states apart. Beyond the trauma of being separated from loved ones, those who are split from family members can also end up with different outcomes in their asylum cases because they are no longer linked in court. This means a child could win their case and stay in the U.S., for instance, while the parent loses and is deported. Having legal representation in these cases is vital to keeping vulnerable families together.

Asylum-seekers are five times more likely to win a case for asylum if they have legal representation. This is especially troubling at a time when only 37% of all immigrants and 14% of detained immigrants go to court with lawyers on their side.

A Family Reunited

Elisa and the children were held apart for several weeks before being released from detention and allowed to temporarily live with extended family members in Boston. Mario was held for many months more but was eventually released to join his family while they pleaded their cases in immigration court.

With the help of a team of De Novo immigration attorneys working on their case for over a year, the Carlos family was recently granted asylum, affording the Elisa, Mario and their children the protection and freedom they first dreamed of when they fled El Salvador.