Days before Christmas in 2017, pro bono attorneys Abby Lloyd and Kris Wood (Orrick) walked into a courtroom with their client Israel Luis Hernandez Cruz after over five years of working to save Israel’s life. They walked out that same day with Israel winning the highest level of immigration relief he qualified for. When Abby (PLC’s 2008 Attorney of the Year) shared this #MyGivingStory after making a donation to PLC in Israel’s honor, the entire organization was in awe of this Christmas Miracle and the long journey the trio has made together.

Israel fled horrific abuse in his home country (Mexico) at age 14 and came to the United States by himself. Thanks to his courage and Abby and Kris’s enduring commitment to their client, on December 21, 2017 a judge welcomed Israel (now 42) to the United States. The judge told him he was safe, and said, “I am so sorry for what happened to you. I believe you. You have a story to tell and you can help others through the telling of your story. I hope you do.  Merry Christmas.”

Israel won a form of immigration relief called “withholding of removal,” which under the circumstances of his case, was the highest level of relief he qualified for. It means he can stay, most likely indefinitely, in the United States. Israel has been here for 27 years, after fleeing Mexico due to unimaginable persecution. Ever since he uttered his first word as a baby, people “could tell” Israel was gay. He, of course, did not know what “gay” meant when he was six years old, but he was beaten, raped, tortured (including being put in a bucket of water and electronically shocked repeatedly) because of “effeminate” behaviors.

Abby (then with Paul Hastings LLP) took the case, as an appeal, from PLC in 2012. Abby recalls: “I first met Israel when he was in detention in Santa Ana and he was covered in a horribly painful rash because ICE failed to treat his HIV/AIDS disease adequately. I met him through glass, at the jail, spoke on a telephone, and he never smiled because he was in tremendous pain. I put my hand on the wall of glass and he did the same – our first handshake.”

Israel had represented himself pro se in the initial merits hearing and lost because the immigration judge held, in her written order, that he “did not look sick,” so he could not be persecuted in his home country for having HIV/AIDS. With Abby now on his side, Israel won the appeal and Kris later joined the team as a first-year associate to help prepare for a new trial. To get Israel released, the team requested and received a belated bond hearing. Abby personally walked a $3000 cashier’s check (courtesy of Paul Hastings) into the immigration court bond office, and the next day, Israel walked out of jail after nine months of detention. Once released, Israel waited for his remanded trial. In the meantime, an opportunity arose to speak before a California legislative committee regarding the inadequate medical care he received while in immigration detention. Israel seized the opportunity to make a difference for others.

When he came to the United States at 14, Israel spoke no English at all, but was determined to not just learn English, but learn it well enough to write poetry. Even though released on bond, he was still in removal proceedings, so testifying was a risk. Nevertheless, when Israel spoke in Sacramento before the legislative committee, his voice trembled but he did not falter. This was a risk he wanted to take. The backlog and turnover at DHS led to many, many delays over seven years. The team was ready for trial three times, in the court room, prepared to begin trial, only to encounter a continuance at the last minute. Through all of this, Israel felt like his very life was in limbo and the emotional roller coaster took a toll on him. The team, especially Kris, helped him through many a tearful phone call. In fact, after Abby took an in-house position for two years, Kris became Israel’s lifeline. When Kris (a member of PLC Advocates) was interviewing to join Orrick, one of his first questions was if he could bring his PLC pro bono cases over. “I didn’t want to leave Israel and another family I represented with someone else,” recalls Kris. “I developed a relationship with them and Israel, especially, was in a dark spot. I did not want him to feel abandoned”

On December 21, 2017, Israel finally received his remanded trial-nearly seven years after his first pro se trial. During the trail, Israel bravely testified to his experiences in his home country. They are horrific and included rape, beatings, torture, followed by police, teacher and physician indifference and indeed further persecution by these authorities. The judge and the DHS attorney were both gracious and kind to Israel. The judge stopped Israel when he needed to compose himself, and reassured him he was safe and the proceedings were confidential. The DHS attorney asked only three questions on cross, designed only to confirm and clarify. She then consented to the requested relief and waived appeal. Now, Israel is gainfully employed (as a chef in a catering company and as a caregiver), is healthy, and can predict his future here.

Orrick partner and PLC board member Glenn Dassoff sums it up well: “Everyone here is so gratified by the outcome for Israel and so appreciative of the hard work performed by Abby Lloyd and Kris Wood on his behalf. It underscores why Orrick is so deeply committed to providing assistance to people and communities around the world through pro bono service, and is a testament to what can be achieved when we collaborate with committed organizations like the Public Law Center.”