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This year Zoila Godoy finally received the news that she had been waiting over three years for when an Immigration Judge approved her application for asylum, permitting her and her son to stay in the United States.

Zoila’s long path to safety was treacherous. After suffering violence in her hometown in El Salvador, she moved with her son, Gabriel, to another community in her home country in 2016, hoping to find a safer life. But almost immediately, she was targeted by a gang that told her that if she tried to escape, they could find her anywhere. At one point, a gang leader attacked Zoila.* Though she fought back and managed to escape, Zoila realized that she had to leave her country to survive.

Once in the U.S., our immigration attorneys at Hogar Immigrant Services – Legal, agreed to represent Zoila and her son in their asylum cases. Though it was painful to relive her experiences, Zoila recounted her past and offered evidence to support her asylum application. A Bilingual Health Clinician from Catholic Charities’ Family Services program also met with Zoila to evaluate and substantiate the impact of the trauma she endured in El Salvador.

A client works with an Hogar Immigrant Services, Legal representative at a 2019 workshop. Photo by Lisa Julia.

Due to extensive backlogs in the immigration court system, Zoila’s final hearing in January 2020 was the first of Hogar’s asylum cases to make it to trial since Hogar expanded its services to include removal defense for individuals in deportation proceedings three years ago. During the weeks leading up to the hearing, Hogar staff, including lead Staff Attorney Taylor Hall, spent hours preparing Zoila for the hearing and conducted a moot trial in the office so that Zoila would be ready for the big day.

“Preparing for the hearing was very stressful. I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep the night before. But on the day of the hearing, I felt more confident because of all our preparation.”

Zoila, a native of El Selvador who sought legal assistance from Catholic Charities.

At the end of the hearing, the Immigration Judge told Zoila that he was granting asylum for her and Gabriel. “I was so thrilled by the good news that I wanted to run up and give the judge a big hug,” said Zoila.

Now that Zoila is an asylee, she qualifies to receive services from Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) program. Thanks to MRS assistance, Zoila signed up for health insurance and driving school, eventually obtaining her driver’s license. She received help to secure a job working at a restaurant and is already training to become a manager. She plans to take online English classes through Catholic Charities’ Education and Workforce Development program this year.

As an asylee, Zoila also qualified to file petitions to legally bring her two other minor children to the U.S. from El Salvador, which Hogar filed on her behalf.

Zoila reports that Gabriel is especially motivated in school now that he knows he can stay in the U.S. He graduated from elementary school this year and plans to become a chef when he grows up.

An image of merciful Jesus with His Sacred Heart at a 2019 Hogar legal workshop at Christ the Redeemer, Sterling. By Lisa Julia.

“Sometimes I forget that my immigration process is over. It feels like a dream. I thank God that so many doors are open to me now. God is good and forever God is good.”

New asylee Zoila

*Client names are fictional to protect the subjects of this article.