When someone comes to our Catholic Charities Center, the first person they often meet is 19-year old Marlene. Smiling and bubbly, she makes families feel at ease and welcomed. She knows what’s it’s like to be in their shoes – just a few months earlier, she was the one walking through the door.
At the age of 17, Marlene and her younger sister fled gang violence in El Salvador that threatened their lives. Their mother had been living in the United States for nearly a decade and it was time for them to be reunited in a safer place. With no other options, Marlene and her 8-year-old sister waded through rivers, walked through deserts, and crammed onto cattle cars to reunite with their mother in Maryland.
As an undocumented juvenile in a new home, Marlene sought the help of our Catholic Charities family. With the help of our immigration legal services and a team of pro bono lawyers, Marlene was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status which will allow Marlene to apply for permanent residency in the United States. Deacon Jim Shanahan was one of those pro bono attorneys working on her case. “A story like Marlene’s is exactly why SIJ status exists and is so important. We have kids fleeing on foot to escape death and this is the way to help them.”
When Marlene heard the judge’s ruling, she started to cry. She knew then her American dream to become a doctor could happen.
To prepare her future career in medicine, Marlene volunteers at the medical clinic and dental clinic in the Catholic Charities Center. “We are like a family here, we all help each other. Catholic Charities has opened so many doors for me and I can’t see my life without them.”