Spotlight: ACBA Members and Legal Access Volunteers Jocelyn Sperling and Janice Cho
An immigration attorney at our local nonprofit partner, Centro Legal de la Raza, contacted us with an urgent request for assistance in a case involving a Salvadoran mother (“Marta”) seeking custody of her daughter (“Nidia”), age 17. Custody is a prerequisite for Nidia’s eligibility for a form of immigration relief called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”). A Contra Costa judge had continued the hearing until after Nidia’s 18th birthday (when the court would no longer have jurisdiction), and then refused to advance the hearing.
ACBA members Jocelyn Sperling and Janice Cho stepped in to assist Nidia’s attorney, Abby Sullivan Engen, with a petition for writ of mandate to advance the hearing, which was granted within 48 hours. Then, at the hearing, the court accused Marta of having “abandoned” Nidia when she left her in her grandmother’s care in El Salvador so that Marta could come to the U.S. to earn enough money to support her children. The court ignored that Marta had not, in fact, abandoned Nidia because she sent money with every paycheck and maintained frequent telephonic contact. The court denied custody, finding that awarding custody to an “abusive” parent was not in Nidia’s best interests.
Jocelyn again stepped in, swiftly drafting a second writ petition, which was again granted. The Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate, determining that this was a rare case where a parent’s entitlement to custody was so obvious that the appellate court could determine custody and order the superior court to grant relief. Nidia now has the requisite state court order to apply for SIJS, and she is on the pathway to lawful permanent residency in the U.S., where she hopes to continue high school and become a nurse one day.
Way to persevere Jocelyn and Janice! You represent the best in our profession.