Mariya Deryugina immigrated to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine, with her parents when she was 10 years old. Now, she is an associate in the Corporate Group at Crowell & Moring LLP and just finished representing her first KIND client before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and in immigration court. As an immigrant herself, Mariya was interested in immigration law and specifically in helping protect the rights of immigrant children in the U.S. Mariya took on a KIND case because she recognized that children need help navigating the immigration process, particularly since they are incapable of representing themselves and often do not even know English.
While looking for an immigration case to take, Mariya learned about a KIND child named Marco* who desperately needed an attorney. When Marco was 16, he was apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in Texas and placed into the care of the Office Refugee and Resettlement (ORR).
Marco’s story is not that of a common 16-year-old boy. Marco was living in Honduras with relatives when gang violence started taking over his neighborhood. Marco’s parents had left several years earlier to work in the United States. When Marco was old enough to travel on his own, he decided to also make the journey to escape the gangs and reunite with his parents.
While traveling in Mexico, Marco stopped to buy a drink in a store. Without warning Marco was kidnapped by the Zetas Cartel, one of the most violent and dangerous gangs in Mexico. After several weeks in captivity, the cartel extorted money from Marco’s father in exchange for Marco’s life. Marco was then put in a car and left in the desert in Texas. This is where CBP officials found Marco and took him to the hospital. Marco suffered injuries but was cleared for release by the hospital and then placed into ORR custody.
Not many are as lucky as Marco. In an article out earlier this year, the Daily News reported that the Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights stated that in 2010, more than 11,000 people were kidnapped by the Zetas Cartel. Over the past six years, Mexico’s Interior Ministry estimates that more than 26,000 people have gone missing due to the increasing gang violence in the country.
Because of the increasing violence of gangs along the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a formal case against certain members of the Zetas Cartel and wanted Marco’s assistance in providing evidence against his captors. Marco agreed to provide evidence to the FBI.
Marco spent several months in Texas in an ORR facility and was then released into the care of his father in New York. This is when Marco was referred to KIND, which placed his case with Mariya. “I thought it was an egregious thing that had happened to Marco, who was just a kid. Kids always need defense because they can’t stand up for themselves to protect their rights,” Mariya said.
As an immigrant, and native Russian speaker, Mariya knows the difficulty of coming to a country where you do not speak the language. “The hardest part for Marco, and for us as attorneys, was the language barrier,” Mariya explained. Understanding his story and making sure he understood how his attorneys could help was essential for his case.
When Mariya met Marco for the first time, she noted that he was very strong and upfront about his story. “For a child who has just been through so much, Marco was able to work really well with us in getting his story across,” Mariya said. “Marco is a really great kid. He gets good grades, tries hard in school, plays soccer, and goes to church with his family. He is a really stand-up person. Marco is learning English and it has been getting better each interview that we had.”
Through Marco’s cooperation with the FBI, Mariya and her team at Crowell & Moring were able to obtain a law enforcement certification from the FBI and to apply for and receive a U visa for Marco from USCIS. U visas are for victims of crimes who are helpful to the investigation of the crime; the U visa gives immigrants temporary legal status and work eligibility in the U.S. for up to four years while they continue to be helpful to law enforcement. Marco received his U visa on October 2, 2012, which is also Mariya’s birthday. He is now able to finish his education and to live and work in the U.S. without fear.
“KIND has been extremely helpful,” Mariya said. “Whenever we had questions about filing or eligibility requirements or procedural issues, our KIND coordinators were right there to help and work with us to find the correct answer.”
Mariya now works in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, DC office and continues to represent immigrants pro bono. “It has been a really great experience working with KIND on Marco’s case,” Mariya said, “I look forward to continuing our positive relationship on other matters.”
*Names and certain details have been changed to protect client’s identity.