Rebekah, Milton & Yeny
CVLS Executive Director Margaret Benson wrote this piece, which was originally published in the April edition of Chicago Lawyer Magazine.
Milton and Yeny enjoyed a nice life in Guatemala City until Milton witnessed a gang execution on his way home from work. He didn’t want to be a witness. He was caught in the middle of the street as a group of men harassed a 15-year-old boy. Suddenly, before Milton could turn around, one man pulled out a gun and shot the boy in the head. Milton recognized the man as the leader of a feared gang. That man and a few of his followers ran up to Milton and threatened to kill him too. They let him go with a warning. “You didn’t see anything.”
A few days later, the police stopped Milton on the street and began questioning him. After learning where he lived and worked and his daily schedule, they asked if he’d seen anything unusual lately. When Milton said no, one of the officers accused him of lying and pistol-whipped him. The officer warned that the shooter was his cousin and that Milton had better keep quiet. Milton discovered that the officer was a high-ranking member of the Guatemalan national police department. Milton knew he and his family were in danger. He went to the Office of Human Rights for help. They refused to let him make a claim because getting involved with the police was too dangerous. They said the gang would come after them too.
Shortly after that visit, Milton narrowly escaped when several police officers chased him and fired several shots.
Milton took his pregnant wife and young children to another part of the city. Gang members broke into their apartment. They moved again, but one day a woman on the street tried to force his wife into a car. They moved out of the city to a remote area in the mountains, but Milton couldn’t find work and their children had no school. After Yeny gave birth and with nowhere else to hide, they realized they had to leave Guatemala. Milton came to the U.S. The harrowing, dangerous trip took one month. As soon as he got across the border, he was arrested. An old friend of his mother’s posted bond for him and helped Milton get his case moved to Chicago. In the meantime, Yeny and her children were being harassed by police officers looking for Milton. Again, she moved, but family members wouldn’t let her stay with them because they were afraid as well. It was time for her and the children to join Milton in Chicago.
After she left, gang members shot and killed Milton’s brother at the family business. The shooter told witnesses that it was revenge because Milton had talked. Men claiming to be police officers continued to lurk around the homes of other family members. Eventually, Milton’s parents and remaining siblings were forced to flee Guatemala.
Milton and Yeny applied for asylum through the National Justice Immigrant Center. Pro bono attorneys Rebekah Rashidfarokhi and Allison Singer spent hours interviewing them and others, researching gang and police corruption in Guatemala and establishing the elements of a successful asylum case.
They won the case in 2007. Milton and Yeny and their four children were safe as legal American residents.
Ten years later, Milton and Yeny have good, stable, full-time jobs. They and their children became American citizens last year. Milton and Yeny recently purchased a house in Chicago. Their oldest, a daughter, was just accepted into one of Chicago’s selective enrollment high schools. Their other children are doing equally well in school. While Milton and Yeny are still more comfortable speaking Spanish, their children are becoming fluently bilingual. This family is giving back to their new country. They pay income and property taxes. They are good American citizens. This is an American immigration story. It’s also an American pro bono story.
This is what caring American lawyers do.