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An Immigration Services Success Story from LCLAS 

Andrew Banyai Headshot

It’s an honor to share an immigration services success story from the Lee County Legal Aid Society (LCLAS) team. As an extension of our mission to care for the low-income population who have family-related legal issues within Lee County, LCLAS is often confronted with the very real immigration challenges facing certain local youth under the age of 18. 

“As the topic of immigration heats up within our national discourse, it is critical to recognize and offer support for an underserved population of minors who have been abandoned by their families and now seek to make a living within our community. These children do not have legal status, leaving them with no possible avenue to earn a lawful wage and pay taxes on that income,” said LCLAS Director Andrew Banyai, Esq. 

These youth travel – on foot – from countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Haiti and Guatemala. “The reality is that parents are sending their children to the U.S without adult supervision or parental guidance, in the hopes that their kids can secure a better future in the land of opportunity. They pay an exorbitant sum of money to individuals known as ‘coyotes’ to escort their children across the border into the United States,” he said. 

Beyond the physical hardships, many experience other forms of abuse and trauma along their journey. They arrive with an acute need for care and legal support, but have nowhere to turn as their status limits the opportunities for gainful employment. 

Eunice Linot, an immigration attorney at LCLAS, recently recalled a 2023 case in which a 17-year-old boy immigrated from Guatemala. “Other than selling illegal street drugs, this teen had no opportunities for income. The United Way was alerted that there was a child not enrolled in school, finding him drunk, traumatized, homeless and living in his car,” she said. 

The LCLAS team applied to get a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) predicate order from the appropriate state judge. This finding determined the teen could not be reunified with his parents due to abuse, abandonment, and neglect. Next, LCLAS filed an I-360 SIJS petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the teen’s behalf. A successful SIJS petition allows immigrant children in the state juvenile system to apply for an adjustment of status (I-485) to lawful permanent resident of the United States. 

“From this point, we worked with him to apply for a work permit and a social security card. Once LCLAS helps a child obtain a social security number, the youth are able to start earning a taxable income,” said Eunice. “Most importantly, he is now on the pathway to becoming a green card holder.” 

Make A Difference Today! 

You can make a real impact in our community by getting involved with LCLAS and our vital immigration services program. We offer a variety of ways for you to contribute, whether it’s through donating, volunteering, or even becoming a referral partner or sustaining law firm. Your support means the world to our team and clients, and we couldn’t do it without you. Learning more about our mission and how you can support our cause at https://www.leecountylegalaid.org/.  

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