Client Story

The Pineda family knows what it is like to fight. Ricardo Pineda served in the U.S. military for five years, including one year in Korea, away from his family. He was honorably discharged because of medical issues. Two of Ricardo’s sons, Juan Pablo Pineda and Kevin Pineda, fight for their lives each day – one dealing with serious heart problems and the other cerebral palsy. Ricardo’s other two children, Ivan and Emily Pineda, also face challenges.

Veronica Castro, Ricardo’s wife, holds the family together. She is the primary caretaker for her husband and four children – an unconditional labor of love. The events in Veronica’s life have created another intense fight for the family. While Ricardo and their four children are citizens, Veronica is undocumented. She entered the U.S. without papers 16 years ago so that Juan Pablo could access a life-saving heart surgery.

Veronica’s future in the U.S. is uncertain each time she reports to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) check-in. With Ayuda at her side providing legal representation, Veronica showed courage in the proceeding—and relief upon hearing she could stay another year in the U.S. Outside, a large crowd of supporters and media gathered to support Veronica and her family, and to cheer the decision.Read the Washington Post article about that fateful day here.

Veronica, Ricardo and their Ayuda attorney will be sharing their story at the Welcome Breakfast on September 20, 2017.



By: Clarissa Arevalo, Domestic Violence Staff Attorney

 Annette and her children came to Washington D.C. when her husband – a member of the military of a country in central Africa – was posted to the embassy. Already a violent man, he became even more violent in the United States, but he was protected from prosecution by diplomatic immunity. Ayuda’s Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault team was able to help where the police could not. First, after a contentious trial, we secured a civil protective order (“restraining order”) for Annette and her children. Later, Ayuda handled Annette’s divorce and custody case.

The violence had escalated to the point where, on one occasion, Annette’s husband smashed her head into a heater and threw her across the room. Annette was certain he was going to kill her. Their daughter called the police, but they could do nothing because of his diplomatic status. Fortunately, the next time the police were called, an officer suggested that Annette talk to an organization like Ayuda about getting a protective order.

The trial was difficult, but Annette was brave, and her Ayuda attorney was fearless. And in the end, she won both the protective order and the eventual divorce! Asked how her life has changed, Annette said, “I have never been as happy and free as I am now. And my children are so happy because our home is safe and peaceful. I am so glad I met with the staff at Ayuda!”

Attorney Rwanda Campbell provides pro bono service and helps Estella rebuild her life.

Arnold & Porter’s Rwanda N. Campbell has been a pro bono attorney with Ayuda for three years, representing clients seeking U Visas, which helps undocumented victims of crime gain legal status in the United States through their cooperation with law enforcement. Her first client is Estella from Ecuador, whose boyfriend nearly killed her. Campbell helped Estella escape the violence and rebuild her life: “Ayuda has allowed attorneys to connect with these strong and brave women who persevere through hardship for a better life.”

In 2012, I attended a pro bono immigration training session at Arnold & Porter led by Ayuda. The training focused on the U Visa process. Within a few months, I met with my first U visa client, Estella.

Estella was shy, with a quiet demeanor. She smiled often, but her eyes were filled with sadness. Over the course of several meetings, we often cried together as she told in detail the journey of her life, which led her to bravely travel to the United States from her native Ecuador in order to seek a better life for her three young children she had to leave behind with family.

While working, Estella met a man who would later become her abuser. Initially the relationship was wonderful as he supported and provided for all of her needs. Things quickly deteriorated when the physical violence towards her became a daily occurrence. Estella hoped things would change after having their first child, but the violence continued throughout her second pregnancy and well afterwards. An escalation of violence one night led to Estella’s two-night stay in the hospital after her boyfriend attempted to kill her. This final incident provided Estella with a newfound determination to escape from this horrific situation.

With the help of Ayuda, Estella successfully filed charges against her abuser, and testified against him at trial. Her cooperation with law enforcement allowed me to file a U Visa application for Estella and her children. We are still waiting on the approval of her U Visa, but have since received Estella’s work permit, which has opened up a whole new world for Estella and her family. Thanks to Ayuda, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for Estella.

The partnership that Arnold & Porter has with Ayuda has allowed many attorneys to help and connect with these strong and brave women who persevere through hardship for a better life. The experience is both beneficial and enriching to all parties involved. I am thankful for these life changing work opportunities provided by organizations like Ayuda.








By Kayleen Hartman, Immigration Staff Attorney

Jose left El Salvador in 1986 during the civil war after a few of his friends were murdered. He moved to the United States – initially sleeping on the streets – but over time, building a new life. Jose worked hard, got married and settled into the community.

Last year, the woman who cared for Jose’s elderly mother back in El Salvador called Jose. She didn’t know where else to turn.
Her 16-year-old son, William, had fled gang violence in El Salvador and was in immigration detention in the United States. The authorities would release William, but only if he had an official custodian with whom he could live.

“We had never had children of our own,” Jose reflected. “I was afraid of bringing a child into a world full of violence.” Having only seen pictures of William, and barely knowing William’s mother, Jose agreed to care for him as if he were his own child. “I understand violence. I know what it feels like to think that no one can help you – that no one will help you,” he said.

An Ayuda immigration attorney sprang into gear, helping Jose and William to work out all of the legal details. In May, William was granted “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” and has begun the process of applying for legal permanent residence.
“I tell William that this is a country of opportunity. If you work hard and behave, you can succeed,” Jose said. “William is doing great. He is doing well in school and making friends. He even helps out around the house. He is just a good kid.”

Women posing next to a tree

Isabel and Ernesto, a young couple, first came to Ayuda when Isabel’s high school English teacher, Audrey, noticed a four-year gap in Isabel’s studies. Audrey asked Isabel about it. When Audrey heard Isabel’s story, she immediately knew that Ayuda could help.

“When Isabel first came in for a consultation, she was extremely concerned about talking to someone about her status,” said Rebecca, staff attorney at Ayuda. “We explained that everything would be confidential. From there, the hardest part for Isabel was talking about what happened during those years when she was a victim of human trafficking.”

When Isabel was eleven, she’d been living without her parents for a year. They both died.

Her brother was 25 years old, married, and living in the U.S. He found Isabel and promised her a beautiful life with him and his wife. He told her she could go to school. He told her life would be better. Her imagination would not let go of images of the better times to come.

Her brother arranged for her travel to the U.S. She was smuggled in by men who charge for such a service. When she arrived, however, she was not welcomed to her new home with an embrace from a loving brother. Instead, she was put to work in the house.

For three years she cooked and cleaned and cared for her toddler cousin. She was never given a chance to see the inside of a classroom. At fourteen, she was put to work in a clothing factory and saw her wages go into her brother’s pockets.

Years of servitude passed and no one noticed—so she thought. Someone did notice though. Ernesto would stop by the house at times to visit with Isabel’s brother. Ernesto noticed that she did not smile—that she did not laugh.

Eventually, she noticed him too. She learned to trust him and shared her story. There can be love in sadness, and they had found it in each other. They fled to Virginia together. They were followed by threats from her brother and other men who do such things. They were serious threats.

Isabel and Ernesto, scared and in love, became parents to a beautiful baby girl. Unlike Isabel and Ernesto, who arrived in the U.S. as children without proper documentation, their daughter was born a U.S. citizen. But with a language barrier, little education, and immigration issues, the couple was unsure of their next move. It was during these trying times that Audrey heard Isabel’s story and contacted us to help.

Our attorneys helped Isabel successfully apply for a T visa. Isabel’s trafficking was reported to a detective who assisted in exposing conditions at the factory where Isabel had worked, preventing future incidents of coerced or forced labor.

Our social workers helped the couple pay their rent and buy clothes for their, now, two kids. Ernesto had a deportation order from when he was a child. That order was reopened and terminated. They no longer had to live with the constant fear that they would be swiftly separated someday.


“I don’t have to worry anymore. Now, all I have to do is work hard and think about my family.”

Ernesto was working so hard that he needed two jobs to contain his enthusiasm. At night, he cared for the two young children. Isabel couldn’t do it. Nighttime was time for her studies.

“I want to be a police officer, because they help people.”

Eventually, as they kept gaining more control of their lives, the couple was able to marry. Isabel wore a long, flowing dress and they celebrated with champagne, a few friends, and the kids.

Soon Isabell and her family will be able to travel back to El Salvador to visit Ernesto’s mother, who has yet to meet her two grandchildren. Maybe then Isabel will again know the feeling of family where it was once taken from her.

Thank you, Isabel, for allowing us to share your story. And a special thank you to Quinnie Lin, Ayuda volunteer, for putting Isabel’s story into words. Isabel’s story is a true Ayuda success story; however, names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Girl smiling

Janna is a very talkative, energetic, and confident kid—imagine your typical eleven year old.

When I met Janna, she told me that she had recently joined the 100-mile club at her elementary school.

“But don’t worry,” she said. “We don’t run one hundred miles all at once. It takes lots of hard work and I just started, but by the end of the year, I’ll get it done.”

Then, in an instant, she went silent. Her mother’s sudden, softly spoken Arabic then filled the room as she explained Janna’s story.

Janna’s estranged father had entered the U.S. on a tourist visa from Egypt, bent on kidnapping Janna. He broke into the family’s home and attacked Janna’s mother, demanding Janna’s return to Egypt. His future plans for Janna included female genital mutilation (a practice still found in parts of Egypt). The whole incident was terrifying. Fortunately, Janna was in school when he showed up at their house.

Janna snapped back to the conversation, “I would not recognize him if I saw him. I only knew him when I was a baby in Egypt. I don’t understand why he thinks he needs to come get me all of a sudden.”

Fearing for Janna’s safety, Janna’s mother sought help. Ayuda provided legal services, which would later result in a protective order and full custody of Janna. With their case won, Janna’s mind moved on to ice cream—the perfect celebratory accompaniment.

Last February, I met with Janna to help with her final step to total liberation from her past: the green card application. She was happily anticipating the interview with the immigration officer.

“I can’t wait to tell them about all the clubs and school activities I’m in—especially the step team,” she gushed.

Janna’s mother began to cry. Janna seemed embarrassed.

“My mom wants me to tell you how happy and how thankful she is for Ayuda and all the work you have done to help us,” she said. She paused for a second.

“And I want to tell you that too.”

Here’s to a bright, happy future, Janna. Go get ’em!

Thank you, Janna, for allowing us to share your story. And a special thank you to Rebecca Walters, Ayuda volunteer, for putting Janna’s story into words. Janna’s story is a true Ayuda success story; however, names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

A family of 5

As a single mother with a full-time job and four children, how Eva Knight finds the time to study English, participate in her church community, and volunteer for a domestic violence support group, is a tribute to a person’s indomitable spirit. If anything, Eva’s past serves as a reminder of just how determined that spirit is.

Years before, in Honduras, Eva’s husband physically hurt her. Over and over again. Her local police department failed to protect her. The abuse had to stop. She could leave him, she thought, but what about the children? At that time she had three children and loved them deeply. In 2007, however, Eva found the strength and a way to move forward with her kids, and away from him. But it would mean separating, not only from her abusive husband, but from her children, too. She arranged for them to stay with their grandma in Honduras. She fled to the U.S.

Weekly phone calls did little to help the hurt of a mother and her children separated from one another. But hearing their voices on the end of the phone triggered Eva to seek help from Ayuda in 2010.

Ayuda helped Eva obtain a U visa, through her cooperation with the investigation and prosecution of her husband. After that, Ayuda teamed with Eva on a petition to bring her children to the U.S.

We were honored to watch the joyful, and tearful, reunion between Eva, Cristian, Hector, and Eva Gissela. It was a huddled entanglement of hugs, tears, and laughter—the kind of moment that gives form to the feeling of love and belonging.

While in the U.S., Eva was blessed with the birth of her fourth child, Karoline. Karoline was born with a heart defect, a dangerous condition called aortic coarctation. The condition has put little Karoline on the operating table twice for major surgeries. Today, Eva takes Karoline to specialists to monitor her heart and to ensure a continued response to treatment. Many of the specialists have told Eva that if Karoline had been born in Honduras or had to live there, she most likely would not be alive today.

Cristian is now 17 years old and doing well in his high school classes. Hector is 15 and enjoys listening to music on his MP3 player. Eva Gissela is an 11-year-old who loves ballet and equally enjoys Honduran folkloric dances, the kind that show traditional costumes. Karoline, the nimble 2-year-old, is a bundle of energy, constantly running around and exploring, with her mother or one of her older siblings chasing after her and the Dora backpack she stubbornly drags along everywhere.

All of them now speak fluent English, have American friends, and seem completely at ease in the Fairfax County school system.

We are now assisting with the children’s application for their green cards. They are excited at the thought of attending college and applying for U.S. citizenship in the future, a model provided by their mother.

The children stood proudly next to their mother when Eva finally received her green card last December. “Congratulations, Mom,” young Eva Gissela beamed.

Despite their heavily scheduled days, the whole family paid us a visit in December, bringing three beautiful rhododendrons, holiday cards, and heartfelt gratitude to Ayuda staff. Seeing the family walk in together was thanks enough.

Thank you, Eva, for allowing us to share your story. And a special thank you to Rebecca Walters, Ayuda volunteer, for putting Eva’s story into words. Eva’s story is a true Ayuda success story; however, names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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