In this issue, we spotlight Mary McKelvey, Ryan Landis, Stephanie Bowlby, and Danila Toscano, commercial litigation attorneys with Polsinelli’s Los Angeles, California, office. The team obtained two rare asylum victories in a pro bono matter for two teenaged sisters from Honduras who fled horrific abuse and an unbearable existence. The girls say asylum saved their lives and gave them an opportunity to live the lives they had previously only dreamt of.
The girls, Rachel and Angela (not their real names), were 6 and 7 years old when their physical, sexual, and psychological abuse began in their Honduran household. The severe abuse, which resulted in permanent scars and emotional trauma, continued through ages 11 and 12. Rachel and Angela were treated like servants in their childhood household and were subjected to repeated sexual and physical abuse after their father passed away in a tragic accident, leaving them without a parent or protector in the country. At one point, one of the girls tried to take her own life because she felt death was preferable to the existence she endured.
Human rights violations and domestic abuse are common for women living in Honduras, especially for young women. In 2013, Honduras was ranked as having the highest murder rate in the world. Pervasive corruption, poverty, gang violence, and willful ignorance on the part of the government all play key roles in perpetuating this dangerous environment. Living conditions for Rachel and Angela were riddled with abuse and they were left with no recourse, due in large part to widespread police corruption.
After years of sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and beatings that resulted in hospital visits, Rachel and Angela escaped their home and navigated through several countries over the course of a month to make it to the United States, where they connected with family members.
In October 2017, after more than two years and against many odds, the hard work and perseverance of the attorneys and the girls paid off, and the girls, now age 14 and 15, were granted asylum in the United States. The journey took an enormous amount of courage from Rachel and Angela, coupled with countless hours, including long weekends of work, interviews, meetings, briefings, and documenting by the Polsinelli attorneys to achieve this well-deserved result.
Both girls are thriving in the United States. They are great students and excited about the chance at life. Angela dreams of becoming a lawyer and helping others who suffer the abuse she was exposed to. Rachel is interested in medicine and has a passion for art.