Anjelica Mantikas '18 Advocates for Brothers Seeking Refuge from Gang Violence
When she stepped into the Queens Family Courtroom last week for the long-awaited hearing, rising 3L Anjelica Mantikas knew that the stakes were incredibly high.
As a student in the Law School’s in-house Child Advocacy Clinic, she had represented brothers O. (age 17) and M. (age 19) for almost a year. They had made the perilous journey from El Salvador after gang members murdered their older brother and then told them “you’re next, we’re eliminating your whole family.” Now, like thousands of other children from Central America’s violent Northern Triangle, they are seeking asylum in the United States.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” says Professor Jennifer Baum, the clinic’s longtime director. “The rise of international criminal organizations such as MS-13 and MS-18 has fueled migration from Central America northward in record numbers. Tragically, it’s young people who are most at risk, as the gangs target teens and adolescents to recruit new members, young children to use in extortion plots, and girls to use for sex trafficking.”
Often young survivors of gang violence are eligible for a form of immigration relief that depends on the outcome of state family court proceedings, Professor Baum explains, so the clinic students practice in immigration court and in family court simultaneously. Using interpreters, they collect evidence from abroad, prepare witnesses for trial, devise legal arguments under New York law, and practice their courtroom skills.
At the hearing, with Mantikas advocating for them, the brothers sought Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. “Once routine, uncontested affairs, these proceedings have morphed in recent years into hotly contested battles with an increasingly skeptical and reluctant bench,” Professor Baum says. Mantikas made the case for relief, with the boys recounting their experience through tearful translated testimony.
The court ultimately sided with the brothers, granting them the orders they needed to proceed with their immigration applications. After rendering the decision, the judge noted that Mantikas did an outstanding job and found it hard to believe that she was a law student, as opposed to a seasoned practitioner.
“Both boys took ownership of their narratives and were very brave to speak openly about the trauma they endured,” says Mantikas. “Professor Baum taught me a valuable lesson that I will always remember: Our job as attorneys for children is to help the child find their voice, to give the child the ability to take ownership of their narrative. Our questions provide the vehicle for the child to share their experiences and take control of their story.”
With the hearing result in her clients’ favor, Mantikas feels like things have come full circle. “Three years ago, I was reading about the crisis surrounding unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence. And, now, I can say that I helped two boys gain the opportunity to apply to stay in the U.S., far away from the violence that took their brother's life. That’s immensely rewarding.”