January 22, 2020

Milbank Pro Bono Team Wins Humanitarian Parole to Reunite Family Separated Under “Zero Tolerance”


After fleeing gang persecution with his wife and three young daughters following the murder of his son in Guatemala, and having been separated from his wife and two of the daughters by the Mexican authorities, and shortly thereafter being separated from his twelve year old daughter at the United States border, imprisoned and ultimately deported, a man known as Fernando was one of 11 parents granted humanitarian parole on January 17, allowing him to reunite with his family in the US and seek asylum. Fernando is represented by a Milbank pro bono led by senior consulting partner Linda Dakin-Grimm, who also accompanied Fernando on his travel from Guatemala to the US on January 22.

After gang members killed Fernando’s 17-year-old son in April 2017 as retribution for his participation in a neighborhood watch group, his family was forced to flee Guatemala after the police were unable to protect the family from ongoing threats. The family undertook an arduous two months-long journey through Mexico to seek asylum, but before they could reach the US, Fernando and his daughter were separated from his other family members. Fernando’s wife and two of his daughters later arrived in Texas, claimed asylum, and were released into the US. However, Fernando and his other daughter, aged 12, were physically separated upon arrival and forced into detention centers.

Fernando became severely ill while detained and was not given the opportunity to properly describe his asylum claim. Though the US Southern District of California ruled in Ms. L v. ICE in July 2018 that deportations of separated parents were unlawful and ordered the Trump administration to reunite parents with their children, Fernando was deported the following month. Milbank sought redress for Fernando’s case and, working with Paul, Weiss and the American Civil Liberties Union, encountered hundreds of similar stories of deported parents.

“I have been in hiding, moving around from place to place…trying to escape detection by the gang,” Fernando wrote from Guatemala in an asylum declaration in March 2019. “I want to come back to the United States to seek asylum with my family…I want to see my daughters grow up and receive their education and become adults. My family feels safe in the United States. I want to live in the United States to save my life.”

Reviewing Fernando’s case in September 2019 along with those of a small group of other parents, the US District Court for the Southern District of California ruled his deportation was a clear violation of the prior stay order. Fernando was granted humanitarian parole, which allows him to come to the US.

“This humanitarian parole grant is a highly unusual and hard-fought victory for Fernando, his wife, and three daughters, who will finally be reunited. After nearly three years fraught with tragedy and hardship, they can find solace together,” commented Senior Consulting Partner Ms. Dakin-Grimm. “Fernando is just one of thousands who were subjected to the horrific family separation policies under ‘zero tolerance.’ They are entitled to equal treatment in the eyes of the law and freedom from arbitrary, unlawful application of government policy. We are thrilled over this long-overdue outcome.”

This triumph for Fernando’s family is part of a broader effort by pro bono legal teams and non-profit advocacy organizations, including immigration advocacy and legal aid non-profit Al Otro Lado and De Anda Law Firm.

The Milbank team was led by Ms. Linda Dakin-Grimm with partner Tim Wendling and associates Julia Wu and Albert Ji.