Finding Hope in the Legal Maze

She fled Guatemala after she was abused and entered the United States as an unaccompanied child when she was 15. Then, she faced the daunting immigration court system, but because of Amanda Maya (Maya), she didn’t have to do it alone.

She fled Guatemala after she was abused and entered the United States as an unaccompanied child when she was 15. Then, she faced the daunting immigration court system, but because of Amanda Maya (Maya), she didn’t have to do it alone.

Maya is KIND’s Senior Attorney in the Legal Department in San Francisco and she is dedicated to advocating and amplifying the voices of immigrants. Our friends at KIND envision a world where children’s rights and well-being are protected as they migrate looking for safety. 

Can you imagine being a young person in a new country facing court proceedings you don’t understand? We can’t either. That’s why we asked Maya to share the experience of one of her clients with us. We want to get closer to stories like these to know how we can better welcome and support migrant children and youth among us. 

Creating a Safe Environment

Maya shares that KIND represented the client for more than seven years and built a close relationship with her. After another KIND attorney represented her in front of the San Francisco Asylum Office, which did not grant her request, the office connected her to Maya. Her case was referred to the San Francisco Immigration Court. 

Legal protection includes innovative holistic care, according to KIND. For cases at KIND, legal representation, education, assistance, family reunification, and litigation.

Maya worked closely with her client to build her case, which involved asking detailed questions about what happened to her in her home country. 

“I had to create an environment where my client felt safe enough to disclose traumatic details to me and prepare her to disclose those details in court,” she says. “In our client meetings, I often utilized therapy tools to help my client describe how she was sexually abused and stopped many times during questioning to ensure my client could continue responding. These trauma-informed techniques took time, and it ultimately took multiple sessions to finalize my client’s declaration.”

This process was pivotal to building a deep trusting relationship between Maya and the client. “We filed an expansive record in this case, which consisted of expert reports, supporting evidence, country conditions evidence, and my client’s harrowing declaration,” she explains. In addition to using trauma-informed approaches in client meetings and court, she also coordinated with KIND’s social services team for additional mental health support. 

Preparing to Tell Her Story

Though she arrived when she was a minor, she was already over 18 by the time her case made it to immigration court. Maya says, “I immediately knew that it was going to be difficult for my client because my client faced the arduous task of telling her story to yet another person.” At their first meeting, Maya explained her experience with representing individuals in immigration court. She let her know she read all the case material and would try to minimize the times she needed to repeat her story but ask her targeted questions to further develop the record. “Additionally, I explained that I would give my all to this case and would be her strongest advocate,” Maya recalls.

The client agreed and stated that she trusted Maya’s approach and wanted her to take over her representation. Maya says she knew she needed to prepare the case with extreme detail to honor her client’s trust and bravery in sharing her story.

To prepare her client for the case, Maya explained the case strategy she had developed in detail to her client. She explained what questions she thought the government attorney and judge might pose to her and prepared her to answer those questions confidently. Before the hearing, they had several practice sessions where Maya asked her the questions she would pose to her during the hearing and practiced mock cross-examination questions she believed the government would pose.

Maya says she made sure to affirm her client’s experiences, saying, “I reiterated throughout the preparation that she was the expert in her story. I told her that no one in that room knew exactly what happened to her except her and that she should feel confident that her recollection of events was the most accurate. She took that to heart and was prepared for the day of the hearing.” 

An Anxious Day in Court

“The day of the hearing was very difficult for my client,” recalls Maya. Before the hearing, she walked her through what would happen once she entered the courthouse, describing the security she would pass through and where they could sit to prep before the hearing. “It was important to me that she knew what would happen to her to minimize the stress she would undoubtedly feel that day,” says Maya. 

The client had told Maya during her hearing preparation that Ratatouille was her favorite movie because it helped her with her appetite. The day of the hearing, Maya revealed that she had watched Ratatouille the night before for the first time, and that made her laugh. “I tried to focus on positives,” she says. “As we were getting closer to the hearing time, I gave my client a popping fidget toy that we had used during practice. She told me that she was feeling very anxious and nervous, and I reminded her that she was the expert on her story. I told her that I was there to support and defend her.”

When the hearing started, the government attorney told the judge that they wanted Maya to focus on questions that tied my client’s harm to her gender. She had prepped her client substantially on that topic and she began my direct examination. “When I asked my client what words her persecutors used against her, she broke down crying,” says Maya. After about ten questions, the judge was satisfied with the evidence tying the harm to the client’s gender. Maya remembers that the DHS attorney then proceeded to state that their excellent preparation of the case made it easy for her to concede that the client should be granted asylum, which is unusual.   

The End of a Difficult Chapter

“When it was translated to my client that the judge granted asylum to her, she began sobbing uncontrollably and hugged me immediately,” she says. The two hugged while the judge read the decision and the client expressed relief that she would never have to discuss what happened to her again. 

“I felt an overwhelming amount of joy and relief for my client,” remembers Maya. After the hearing, the judge delivered the signed orders personally to Maya and her client, saying it was his wish that Maya’s client’s life in the United States would be safer and happier than her life in her home country.  

“After my client was awarded asylum, we threw her a Ratatouille party to celebrate this monumental win with her,” Maya says. “On the day of the celebration, we decorated the conference room with Ratatouille party favors and balloons. Many KIND team members, myself, and my client played Loteria (a game similar to Bingo) for hours, exchanged stories, and listened to our favorite songs together. It was a beautiful celebration, and it closed a difficult chapter for my client.”


San Francisco KIND attorney, Amanda Maya Daneshzadeh

Amanda Maya is KIND’s Senior Attorney in the Legal Department in San Francisco and she is dedicated to advocating and amplifying the voices of immigrants. Before KIND, Amanda was a Removal Defense Attorney at the Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay (JFCS East Bay) non-profit organization and worked in partnership with Stand Together Contra Costa. During her tenure at JFCS East Bay, she provided trauma-informed legal representation to families in removal proceedings and those appearing before the San Francisco Asylum Office. In addition, Amanda was a litigation associate at Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe LLP where she worked on several civil rights matters to redress social issues in her community, including representing claimants in a Federal Tort Claims Act case that challenged President Trump’s family separation policy. Amanda graduated with Honors from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations. She then enrolled and graduated from Berkeley Law where she received the Berkeley Law Public Interest and Social Justice Certificate along with Pro Bono Honors. While in law school, she was the Co-Chairperson of the Board of Advocates and on the board of La Raza Law Student Association.