A little more than two years ago, brothers Javier and Denis Girón, then 13 and 17, were on a migrant smuggler’s raft crossing the Rio Grande — the border between Mexico and the United States.
Javier and Denis, both from Honduras, were among the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors who crossed the Mexican border illegally in the last two years seeking refuge from gang violence in their homeland.
Held at a border detention center and placed in deportation proceedings, the Girón brothers today are U.S. permanent residents and looking forward to becoming citizens. Their pro-bono lawyer, Felice K. Schonfeld of the law firm of DuaneMorris, succeeded in preventing their deportation through a procedure in which a Miami state court found the brothers dependent.
Some of the unaccompanied children who cross the border qualify for green cards under the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) program if their lawyers demonstrate in juvenile court that the child has been abandoned, abused, or neglected. Demonstrating any of those three elements permits the court to issue a dependency order. When children are ruled dependent, the court assumes jurisdiction over them and they can then apply for green-card status.
As more and more unaccompanied children crossed the border, more and more dependency rulings have been issued by juvenile courts.
“The numbers have gone from 73 in Fiscal Year 2005 to 3,432 in fiscal year 2013,” according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service which looked into dependency rulings nationwide.
“We are happy to have our green cards,” said Denis, now 18.
“We got the dependency ruling and then Catholic Charities Legal Services did the application for permanent residency and that was granted,” said Schonfeld, the brothers’ attorney.
Though neither brother is yet ready to say what they intend to do in the United States, both noted they want to stay, study and work. One of them is taking a course in auto mechanics.
Their new situation is a far cry from that evening in mid-February two years ago when they sneaked across the border river on the raft.
They were part of the unprecedented surge of unaccompanied children who came across the border from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Minors, their families and immigrant rights activists attributed the exodus to increased gang violence in the three countries.
Though the Girón brothers are now fully resettled in the United States, they still have not discarded the fear they felt when they first arrive in South Florida. Schonfeld requested that their faces not be shown in photographs or their complete family names used in the article.