When Carina was a young woman, she made a mistake. After getting in a fight with a friend, her friend stole something from her. Carina decided to retaliate by stealing something back. She was caught and charged with burglary. Sha’na Harris, Clinic Staff Attorney for Project GRACE, says, “It was her first and only offense.” But, because the charge was a felony, Carina went to prison.
Years later, and now a mother of two, Carina received a BA in Psychology. She wanted to move further in her career and education, but felt trapped due to her criminal record. “I wanted to be able to break that cycle of poverty and I knew I had to start somewhere and I figured it could start with me,” says Carina. So she came to the Clinic for assistance with getting an expungement, which Sha’na was able to do. “Once she got the expungement, it was like a weight off of her shoulders. It just kind of restored something for her,” says Sha’na.
The relief for Carina was immense, and now she has plans to go back to school to get her Master’s degree, with the knowledge that her record will not hold her back. “I wanted to show my children that a woman could have a better life,” she says. “If she kept putting one foot in front of the other and kept believing in herself, she could have a better life.”
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When Guniya and her sister were 7 and 10 years old, respectively, their parents made the decision to move from India to the United States for her father’s work as a researcher. Although she was too young at the time to understand, Guniya now knows what a stressor the immigration process was for her parents all those years ago.
Her mother was a teacher in India, and continued that profession here in the United States, working with children all day long. “She wants the best for me and my sister,” says Guniya. For her mother, this includes more career opportunities and the chance to vote. And so, although they are all already Legal Permanent Residents, Guniya and her family decided to come through the Clinic’s Immigrant Justice Program for assistance with becoming Naturalized.
Today, Guniya and her parents are finished with their Naturalization interviews, her parents’ paperwork is complete, and her own is not far behind. “I just graduated [from College] and will be a citizen soon,” says Guniya. “It’s kind of like the American Dream.” She credits both her parents and especially her mother for where her family is now. “She’s our first point of contact for everything,” Guniya says. “She’s been a rock for our family and she does so much for us.”
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The gangs in Honduras began harassing Ana* when she was only 14. But after being abandoned by both of her parents when she was young, Ana’s support system was minimal. Beta Martinez, who works in the Clinic’s Immigrant Justice Program, says that the gangs waited for Ana to leave school in the afternoons. “They were telling her, ‘You need to be ours,’” she says.
At the age of 16, Ana was walking home and men jumped out of a van and tried to kidnap her. She fought them off and ran away. One of the would-be kidnappers saw her later that day. Beta says the man told Ana, “You will be mine, or I’m going to kill you.” By this time, Ana knew she was pregnant by her boyfriend, “So she was fearing for the life of her child,” says Beta.
Ana grabbed what clothing she could, and fled for the United States. When she arrived at the border, she was detained and eventually released to find an attorney. Currently, the Clinic is helping her apply for Asylum. But Beta paints a grim picture for young girls who are harassed by the gangs in Honduras. She says, “Usually they end up being kidnapped, raped, and a lot of them are victims of human trafficking afterwards.” The Clinic is fighting to get Ana status so she can stay safely in this country with her baby, who is a U.S. citizen. “She’s trying to get a better future for her child,” says Beta,
*Name and certain details have been changed