When someone comes to our McCarrick Family 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.
When Marlene was 17, she and 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 finally 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.
Marlene faced many challenges as an undocumented juvenile in her new home. When her undocumented status restricted her from applying for loans to go to college, Marlene sought the help of our McCarrick Family Center. 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 McCarrick Family 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.”
To help others like Marlene, donate to our Immigration Legal Services team.