For years Layla’s* family had been targeted by El Salvador’s vicious MS-13 gang, prompting most of them to seek safety in the United States. But when Layla herself became a target, it was time for her to flee as well. Eight year-old Layla came to the United States in 2014, and although she had escaped the gang for the time being, she was soon forced into removal proceedings to determine whether she would be deported back to El Salvador. Children in these proceedings have no right to an attorney, and on her 9th birthday in early 2015, Layla was just a week away facing yet another important immigration hearing alone. That’s when a team of volunteer lawyers from Goodwin began making a case for her to be granted asylum.
After Layla’s family left El Salvador, Layla stayed behind with her grandmother, witnessing first-hand MS-13’s increasing violence in her neighborhood. The girl’s 16-year-old cousin was brutally murdered by three gang members with machetes; a young boy was killed – in front of Layla – for selling vegetables on the wrong street; and Layla received direct threats against her life. As Layla grew older, the violence got worse and the threats against Layla became more frequent and more aggressive. This is when her family decided it was time for her to flee as well.
Soon after Layla entered the United States, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a non-profit group that assists unrepresented children in immigration and asylum proceedings, discovered her case. KIND quickly reached out to Goodwin which partnered with client Gillette’s legal team along with translators recruited from Gillette’s Spanish-speaking affinity group. “We knew Layla had been surrounded by terrible violence, and we spent the first two meetings just listening to her story,” said Alexandra Lu, an associate at Goodwin and one of the lawyers, along with Eric Romeo and Elaine Blais, who handled the case. Gillette’s translators facilitated the meetings with Layla and her family, and Gillette’s in-house lawyers worked closely with the Goodwin team to develop legal strategy, assemble Layla’s asylum application, and prepare Layla for her asylum interview.
Layla was granted asylum in July 2016 and the Goodwin and Gillette team took the family and Layla to the Boston Aquarium to celebrate. Layla dreams of becoming a teacher. Just 10 years old, she is already helping the new students at her school learn English. “While the family and Layla won this asylum case because of their ability to tell their story, without attorneys, they wouldn’t have known the stories to tell and the importance of the experiences they had,” said Blais. “I don’t think she would have had a shot without an attorney.”
*Not her real name