Client Spotlight

Lionel - Unaccompanied Minor Asylum/Trafficking Success

"Lionel" was raised in Guatemala by his grandmother until age 12, when he was forced to live with his father who forced him to stop attending school and work full-time on a construction site. Lionel, a small and slender child, was forced to do things like strap heavy construction materials to his back and carry them up several flights of stairs, six days a week. For three years, Lionel performed hard labor while his father received all of his hard-earned money. Often he went without food, and if he was caught going to his grandmother’s house to be fed, his father would beat him.

All of Lionel’s pleas to again live with his grandmother were met with vicious brutal violence at the hands of his father, who oftentimes beat him multiple times each week, including when he tried to protect his little sister from his father’s abuse.  Once Lionel was hung by his wrists and suspended in the air, then beaten with a rod for close to an hour.

When he was 15, Lionel decided to flee to the United States to live with his mother. He made the perilous trip through Mexico alone – traveling by bus, train, and on foot. When Lionel crossed the U.S. border, he approached border patrol agents and was placed in removal proceedings. He was identified as a victim of labor trafficking by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and was detained for about nine months before being released to the custody of his mother in Florida.

AI Justice staff traveled to Homestead to meet with Lionel and prepare his asylum case. In March of 2015, Lionel’s application for asylum as a child victim of trafficking was granted by the Miami Asylum Office and AI Justice is now working to get him his green card.  Lionel is currently a junior in high school and hopes to one day become a police officer.



"Ana" is an indigenous Mayan woman who at age 19 was recruited by a woman in her village who promised her a good job in the United States. When Ana arrived here, she was taken to rural Miami-Dade County where she began to work at a plant nursery run by Juan.

After a few weeks, Juan began to charge Ana for her food, rent and clothing, always reminding her that she owed him for her trip to the US. Ana worked every day for 12 hours and the little money she made went to pay for her food and clothes. After 6 months, Juan raped Ana and demanded that she keep working for him. Ana wanted to flee but was living in a remote area, is illiterate and only speaks her indigenous language.

Juan began controlling every aspect of Ana's life. He also stopped paying Ana for her back-breaking labor. She was forced to work and live as Juan’s “wife” for 10 years and was regularly beaten and raped by Juan and bore three of his children.  She thought about escaping but knew she couldn’t because Juan had her passport and IDs. Juan also constantly threatened Ana that she would never see her children again if she left.  

One day, Ana saw a small window of opportunity and, risking everything, called the police who responded quickly and took her to a domestic violence shelter, where she was referred to AI Justice’s LUCHA program for legal help.

AI Justice attorneys obtained a trafficking visa for Ana in November, enabling her to access benefits that will help her recover from years of abuse. She is now living safely with her three children.



"Alma" was born in El Salvador and met "Jose", the father of her children there.  One day Jose told Alma that he was going to the U.S. to work and would send money for her and the children but never did.  Eventually, Alma decided to make the journey to the U.S. with their two children because one was very ill and Jose promised to make sure the child would get proper care. 

Upon arrival Alma and her children were apprehended by border patrol and placed in deportation proceedings. While awaiting their court hearing, they lived with Jose who began verbally and physically abusing Alba.  One day he punched her in the face, knocking her to the floor, dragging her by the hair to another room, and repeatedly kicking her.  Alma finally found the courage to call the police and Jose was arrested.  With AI Justice’s help, she filed for a U Visa and her case was approved.  Alma and her children now have U.S. legal status and can live without fear of deportation or further abuse.  



Rebecca was trapped in a physically and emotionally abusive marriage; whenever she tried to flee, her spouse threatened to have her deported and retain full custody of their U.S. citizen daughter, Samantha. Rebecca was concerned that if she were forced to leave Samantha behind with her father, Samantha would become the target of his abuse.

AI Justice was successful in obtaining legal status for Rebecca, and she now can work legally and support herself and Samantha, free from the terror of living with an abusive husband.  After years of being subjected to abuse at the hands of her spouse, Rebecca has her confidence back, knowing that she has a fresh start and can provide a safe, loving, and stable environment for her daughter. 



Jill was only 15 when her mother took her to a bar and asked her to flirt with older men. Slowly but surely, her own mother groomed her into the sex trade. When Jill would complain and say she would not want to do it, her step-father would beat her. For more than two years, Jill lived a nightmare. Her mother forced her to drop out of school and sold her every single night to strange men.

During an undercover sting, Jill was discovered by law enforcement. She was immediately referred to AI Justice, where her attorney assisted her with the difficult process of cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation of human trafficking by her mother and step-father. Her attorney has also ensured that Jill receives all the services available to her, including housing, medical care, and crucial counseling.

Jill was a conditional lawful permanent resident. However, her mother and step-father never filed for permanent residence status. Jill’s attorney is currently working on the petition to remove the conditions on Jill’s status so that she can obtain permanent residence. At Jill’s request, we are also working on the possibility of reuniting with her biological father.



Momoko came legally to the United States and later married a US citizen who abused her. She ended up in a homeless shelter to escape. At [AI Justice], they were very understanding about domestic-violence cases and didn’t treat me like a client. They treated me like a special person.

I wish I had a picture of when my life was the worst because you can see how much change [AI Justice] has given me. I am completely different person. Without [AI Justice], I think I’d be dead. My dream really came true with [AI Justice].” Momoko is now a U.S. lawful permanent resident. She has become a successful artist and was an AI Justice Board Member before moving to California.



Maria was among a group of women from Mexico who were promised legal jobs in the United States, but were instead forced into slavery and prostitution. Their lives were threatened if they resisted. 

We were kept in a place far worse than prison. Once the police found us, we spent five months in detention. Our high hopes for America turned into our worst nightmare. AI Justice got me released from Immigration jail and got me a work permit. Thanks to AI Justice, now I have a better life. I don’t have to be afraid. I started working in a restaurant, cooking and cleaning. And then I was the cashier and now I am a store manager. I have gone to the Capitol of the United States four times to testify to the Senators.

The trafficking ring-leader and six associates pleaded guilty and were sentenced from 30 months to 15 years and ordered to pay $1 million to the survivors. AI Justice represented all seventeen survivors in this case. Maria was among those granted legal status through trafficking-survivor visas.



Mary is a survivor of human trafficking. She was forced to work as a housekeeper at a major hotel chain for little to no pay.  Her employer, the owner of a company that contracted for housekeeping services with the hotel chain,  threatened multiple times to call immigration and have her deported if she complained. 

Despite the threats, and following four years of abuse, Mary bravely contacted authorities while hidden in the attic of her employer’s home.  This led to the downfall of this notorious trafficking ring.  With the assistance of AI Justice, and as a result of her key role in the successful prosecution of her abusers, Mary was able to secure a visa under a special program for victims of human trafficking for herself and her 14 year old son.

AI Justice was then successful in reuniting Mary with her two children in Jamaica. Now she lives happily with her family in South Florida, free from exploitation and abuse.



An AI Justice attorney met Maria, who was from Venezuela, at the Lodge (a domestic violence shelter), where Maria was receiving services.  She had endured horrific domestic violence at the hands of her spouse, who was a lawful permanent resident.  Her husband had filed an application for her residency, but when he did not attend the interview with immigration authorities with her, the application was denied.  Maria finally gained the courage to leave her husband after he violently raped her.  

Maria filed a thorough VAWA self-petition on her own, including extreme details regarding her abuse, photographs of her extensive injuries, and a mountain of evidence to support her application.  When Maria first met her AI Justice attorney, she was very distressed because she had received a notice from the Immigration Service that they intended to deny her VAWA self-petition, and to begin deportation proceedings.  Her attorney made a successful request for cancellation of plans to commence deportation proceedings, importantly avoiding another stressful experience for the already-traumatized Maria.  In addition, the attorney responded to the intent to deny the petition, pointing out the errors in the notice and the Immigration Service’s failure to consider the strong evidence that Maria had submitted.  Within one week of filing the response, the Immigration Service reversed course and approved Maria’s self-petition, and Maria became a lawful permanent resident.  She is now on a path to independence that would have been impossible without the help of an AI Justice attorney to ensure that she was able to assert her rights.



Raquel, a 14-year-old Guatemalan, was recruited by Clara to work as a nanny in the Naples area.  When Raquel arrived in the U.S, Clara imprisoned her in her house and ordered Raquel to prostitute herself.  When Raquel refused, Clara sold her for $5000 to a couple who wanted Raquel to carry a child for them.  The husband repeatedly raped Raquel, leading to the birth of a son.

When Raquel was rescued by the police, AI Justice represented her in connection with her cooperation with law enforcement on the prosecution of the couple for trafficking, in securing a “T-visa” for her, and finally in becoming a legal permanent resident.  Raquel was able to go back to school and dreams of becoming a nurse.


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About Us:

AI Justice is an award-winning non-profit law and advocacy firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, we champion the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocate for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serve as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speak for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.