The headline: After advocating for Rafael Par Guarcax for more than five years, our Immigration Legal Program successfully achieved permanent resident status for him.

The story? Much more involved.

Rafael arrived in the US in 2016 as an unaccompanied minor, age 17. He emigrated out of necessity because his father passed away when Rafael was 12 years old. “Since then, we didn’t have much to eat. I immigrated to the United States for a better future,” he says.

He started studying in a church school to learn a little about the language.

His brother connected him with Lutheran Social Services of New York. Rafael worked with more than one lawyer in our Immigration Legal Program. This is typical, given that immigration cases can take many years on average. LSSNY helped him through the process, with immigration court, family court, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Because Rafael could not be reunited with one of his parents and it wasn’t in his best interest to return to his home country, we helped Rafael apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which begins in family court. After the family court granted that determination, we helped Rafael apply for a SJIS visa with USCIS, and he was approved. Then we asked the government to close his immigration court case so he could have time to become a lawful permanent resident.

Following another period of waiting, he became a lawful permanent resident — a six year journey.  “LSSNY has given me all the help and has always informed me,” Rafael says.

In November of this year, at age 23, Rafael obtained his green card.

“It was a great emotion for me, since I have always wanted that and thanks to [LSSNY] we achieved it and now I can visit my family here in my country,” he says.

A month later, Rafael traveled to Guatemala to spend Christmas with his mother and sisters as well as the family’s cat and dog. “I wanted to travel to my country after six years,” he says. “It’s good to see my mom again.”

When he returns to the US in January, Rafael will continue working in a restaurant. “I just want to save, so that in a few years I can have my own restaurant,” he says.

Since 1995, our Immigration Legal Program has provided free or low-cost direct legal immigration services to 820 under-served populations in New York City.

Please consider an end-of-year donation to LSSNY so we can continue to serve everyone who depends on our programs.