Nixon Peabody Attorney Wins Asylum for Unaccompanied Minor Fleeing Gang Persecution

“John,” whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was the victim of violent gang persecution resulting from his father’s political opposition to the pervasive gang violence in their poor neighborhood bordered by two rival gangs involved in territorial wars. After murder attempts on the lives of his father and other family members, whose history of resistance to the gangs caused them to flee the country, young John was left in the care of an abusive aunt without any protection from gang violence. Following unsuccessful attempts to relocate with extended family members where the vast gang networks were still able to locate him, he fled to El Salvador. At the age of 14, John was apprehended alone while trying to cross the border in Texas.

In 2009, John was referred to Kelly Kress, a Nixon Peabody Government Investigations and White Collar Defense associate in Los Angeles, by KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), an organization that partners with law firms to provide pro bono representation in immigration cases to unaccompanied children.
Ms. Kress faced several seemingly insurmountable challenges to establishing gang-based persecution for John; specifically the need to establish that he had been targeted more frequently than his peers who suffered typical gang-recruitment harassment—a type that, on its own, rarely qualifies as a basis for gang-based asylum. She used a combination of case law, expert testimony, crime statistics, news articles, non-profit reports, case studies, and even a controversial declaration from his father to argue that John’s persecution was more akin to harassment caused by “visible political opposition to the gangs.” It was a difficult argument since she had to essentially “piggy-back” on his father’s previous political resistance and John’s derivative persecution.
Nearly two full years after John fled El Salvador and was put into immigration removal proceedings, Ms. Kress received the favorable decision from the Asylum Office that John qualified for a grant of asylum. “We faced significant hurdles in achieving gang-based asylum for John, but with the help of a dedicated team of legal professionals, we achieved a decision that will change his life forever,” said Ms. Kress. “I am thrilled for John and his family, and am grateful for the opportunity to work on pro bono cases like John’s that truly make a difference.”
“This unique success has is extremely exciting, and will have a significant impact on KIND’s work as well as that of peers working on similar matters,” said KIND Executive Director Wendy Young. “Attorneys like Kelly who are involved with KIND put a clear stake in their clients’ well-being and success, and we are thrilled with the rewarding end to John’s challenging gang-based asylum case.”
John’s case is one of the many pro bono matters Nixon Peabody attorneys and staff have supported. As a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge©, Nixon Peabody uses its best efforts to “annually contribute, at a minimum, an amount of time equal to three percent of the firm’s total billable hours or 60 hours per attorney to pro bono work” and for the past couple of years, it has met this challenge.

About Nixon Peabody LLP

Nixon Peabody LLP is a full-service law firm that helps clients navigate complex challenges in litigation, real estate, corporate law, and finance. With approximately 700 attorneys throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia, our focus is on working collaboratively to serve clients ranging from private individuals and entrepreneurs, to large corporations and financial institutions. Employing innovative and client-centered approaches, the firm helps to anticipate and capture opportunities, prepare for and manage risks, protect intellectual property, and forecast and overcome obstacles. Nixon Peabody is committed to the clients it serves, the communities in which it serves them, and the diverse professionals who have helped make it a “Best Law Firm” and “A Best Place to Work.”(


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