Voices from the Field: Gabriel Moreno

December 14, 2018

Gabriel Moreno

KIND – Senior Attorney

  1. How long have you been working at KIND and what can you tell us about your experience working at the organization so far?

I started as a volunteer attorney in late summer 2013 with my first Special Immigrant Juvenile case. The case involved a child in his early teens who had left his aging grandmother to be reunited with his mother in the United States. His father had abandoned him since birth and he had no relationship with him. He and a cousin traveled from their home country and at one point even traveled on the train known as “The Beast.” My client and his cousin witnessed a horrendous murder while riding the train and the imagery has always stayed with him. He had the opportunity to share his story with U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) on her visit to Baltimore in 2016 after my client obtained his permanent residency. He has since graduated high school, has a full-time job, and a part-time job on the weekend to learn how to be an auto mechanic.  I also began helping another KIND volunteer attorney at the firm I was with at the time as a Spanish interpreter/translator.

In September 2015 I started working at KIND as part of the Baltimore Initiative, which was created to help ensure representation for unaccompanied minors in immigration court and to mentor pro bono attorneys where the minor would need a state court component for relief—Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. I am now on the Family Separation Response team, which helps ensure the representation of separated children and helps these children and their families with other needs including social services. This work has reenergized and strengthened my passion in furthering our goals of the organization.

One of the many things I have enjoyed is getting to meet so many zealous practitioners over the years. Everyone at KIND is passionate about what KIND stands for and that is something very beautiful for me to witness. We do this job because we care so deeply for the children we serve, and our hope that these children will have much better futures here in the United States.

2. As one of the KIND team members who traveled to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas to meet with separated parents this summer, can you share your experiences?

The experience for me going to Port Isabel was expected as far as my understanding of the trauma that these families went through from their life in home country, the journey to the United States, and subsequent separation from their children. One can only prepare so much to hear the stories of children wrenched from these parents and it was heavy on me. It helped to be down there with over nine other amazing people from KIND. We communicated among ourselves about what we learned throughout the day each day from the parents that we conducted legal screenings on and that helped. Our legal screening process included figuring out the reasons the parents and their children came to the United States, as well as trying to find basic information about the children as the government had failed to keep track of where the children were sent when they were separated. We all shared the burden of our frustrations, sadness, and many other emotions with the entire scheme of family separation.

The fact that these parents crossed over and were separated from their children really impacted me as a parent. I have a 5-year-old son and I can imagine the toll that a parent would face upon separation. Writing about the cruelty in and of itself angers and saddens me as it did so many people across the country

3. From the cases you heard, was there one that particularly impacted you? Why?

There was one case regarding an indigenous mother’s journey with her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son to the United States that took more than year. It took so long because she stopped at three different places to work and raise enough money to continue the journey. The mother was fleeing from her home country in Central America because a wealthy family wanted to take her children away to put them to work at another property from where the mother worked. Even the police in her town began threatening her to force her to give her children to this wealthy family. Not having any other choice, she fled to the United States. It is amazing to hear how far parents will go for their children and their future.

4. You were also recently in Tornillo – can you share what that experience was like for you?

Tornillo was different for me because the children I met were not separated from their parents – they came as unaccompanied children. The children were either bored or depressed there because of how long the releases were taking. Some had been at the shelter a little over a month prior to meeting with me. I could see the desperation in their eyes, not understanding the system that held them. I assured them that they would be all right but that everything would take time. One of the 17-year-old boys I spoke with at Tornillo called me recently to let me know that he was finally released to a sponsor.

5. What would you like people to know about the separated families you have met?

They are human beings running away from fear. People need to put themselves in their positions.

6. How has working with these families personally impacted you?

I have become more politically active such as making my representatives more aware about what is going on in the immigration world, from my county council all the way to my federal representatives.