La Salvadoreña Adoptada: A Journey to Discovery and Understanding

by Bethany Parry

Section 1: Finding Myself

In May 2014, I found myself in a place of confusion. I took the November 2013 LSAT and had hoped to begin law school the next fall. However, I felt drawn to take time to reflect on my college experience and begin a phase of life devoted to serving the immigrant community. I briefly worked a post-graduation internship in order to save money, then began to work at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown and Immigrant Hope: Brooklyn. I took a “crash course” on immigration law and threw myself into my work completely. At the same time, I began a relationship with my husband, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. Although I had wanted to practice immigration law before I met him, he was able to teach me what it means to struggle with poverty, lack of education, and extreme violence. He gave me the ability to empathize with people that I do not think I would have had otherwise. He came from a family of 10 children and felt it his obligation to come to the United States to put food on the table. His father had left the family with little support and was not working to sustain the needs of his children. Although my husband only went to school through the second grade, his view on life showed me how skewed my aspirations were. I had wanted to become an immigration lawyer before we had met, but I never really understood (and probably never will be able to fully understand) the struggles of poverty and the love that the immigrant community has for its members and outsiders willing to listen.

To this day, I have to wonder how I ended up where I am. I have done work with non-profits and law firms, but I do not have a clear aim of where I plan to end up after graduation. I cannot say what I really hope my future holds, only that I am able to live with my husband in a safe and loving place with a family of my own. Living under the Trump administration has been one of the most difficult journeys of my life and I bring myself to tears often thinking of my uncertain future. I am sure that many people with undocumented family members have explored their “options” and know full well that living outside of the United States may be a harsh reality, at least for a time. I have struggled to come to terms with the drastic changes brought about through executive orders and spent the entirety of February through May 2017 lying in bed, falling into a depression and struggling to do even the most basic of functions. The most important tasks took a back burner, including studies and other relationships. The curve, however, does not take into account if my husband has immigration problems or if I am just barely able to get out of bed to go to class. I always felt the need to be honest about my husband’s legal situation, but hesitant to share any details about how the situation was truly impacting me emotionally. Thankfully, my husband is stronger than I am and he has given me hope that kind, generous, and positive people continue to exist in the world.

I was born into a “standard” middle class family in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. I would describe myself as a headstrong individual, probably with a tendency to talk too much but with a drive to help the helpless. My parents were always generous to other people and I would say that I was very fortunate in every way. I never felt the fear of poverty or the reality of racism. I would classify my attitude as that of a blissful ignorance. My family was always generous and my parents worked extremely hard for everything that they had. I remember a happy childhood, laced with the usual ups and downs of growing up. In high school, I had a passion for Spanish and was drawn to diplomacy and international travel. The idea of interacting with people from all over the world sounded like an amazing opportunity and I wanted to be able to see and do many things in many places.

In college, I began to learn about a diverse world and had the opportunity to study in Chile. My experience as an outsider impacted me emotionally and reaffirmed my desire to make every person in the United States feel wanted and welcome. Professors pushed me to expand my understanding of America’s role in the world and how many people see this country as a place of hope, only to find that they cannot fully participate in society. About one year before graduation, I met my husband. We talked about everything from his family, to our varying interests, to his dangerous and scary journey to the United States. He told me about times when he thought he would die or about his mother, who he had not seen for over eight years. It was at this time that I felt compelled to pursue my legal career wholeheartedly. I realized how much opportunity I had in life, meaning I would need to use my skills to help people come out of the shadows and live fulfilling lives. I wanted to become a lawyer before this time period. However, today I wonder if my motivations grew from a desire to use Spanish and a “need to be needed.” I had vague aspirations to become a lawyer before I met my husband, so this career path seemed to logically make sense, without a real emotional connection to even my family’s difficult immigrant history. I hoped to have a stable and enjoyable job, with a means to put food on the table. The flaw in my aspiration, however, came from my lack of insight and the inability to relate to people of all backgrounds.

Even though my husband only has a second-grade education, he has insight into human nature that I will never understand. He faced homelessness, death threats, malnutrition, and abuse. I cannot express how proud I am that he has been able to learn new skills and overcome the emotional turmoil that would have killed so many others. He has given so much to his family and has a heart that will keep on giving. I have seen him give money he cannot afford to give in order to rebuild his parents’ home after an earthquake and donate money to send the body of his cousin home after an untimely death. The scars that he has from working and from his past have made him into a gentle individual with a strong drive to provide. He has wiggled himself into the fabric of my family because of his past experiences and I could not be more appreciative of the support I have had throughout this entire process.

Section II: Finding Family

My husband’s family also has left a lasting impact on my life. As a child, my brother-in-law, Juan, grew up in a gang-infested area with little hope of any future. In 2014, Juan was brutally attacked by local gang members of Barrio 18, a group that rules the countryside in El Salvador. He was dragged to a mountain and nearly murdered by the thugs who call themselves gang members. Luckily, a friend stopped the execution, but the threat of murder continued. Since Juan had family in the United States, he was at a higher risk of kidnapping for extortion. Juan was forced to flee to the United States for his life. He went to the police before leaving, who essentially could do nothing to protect him and often are bribed or influenced by gangs. Although some of the gang members were eventually taken into custody, the threats continued from the strongholds in Ilobasco, a large city in El Salvador. Unfortunately, some of the gang members eventually crossed into the United States, as well, and Juan has no idea where they are or what they are doing. When Juan entered the United States, he was placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement because he was a minor.[i] Eventually, he was released into the custody of his aunt, but had to work construction instead of going to school. He eventually was able to win justice when the Asylum Office granted him asylum and immigration proceedings were terminated.

What many people do not realize is that after winning asylum, the story does not end for asylees when their cases are won. Personally, I imagine that their pain and their struggles never truly end. I still receive phone calls about Juan’s fear of deportation or people hurting his family members. I have tried to speak to Juan on multiple occasions about his past, but he cannot bring himself to even describe the trauma that he has been through and I do not want to be the person to cause him more pain. He has physical scarring to his ribcage and shuts down emotionally when the subject is brought up. Nobody in the family has valued an education, but he is currently attending high school and passing with excellent grades with the help of ESL teachers. He hid his past from his teachers, who had no way of knowing his asylee status and trying to connect him with the best help possible. Few people have tried to advocate for him and his future, even though he has monetary support from family members. The entirety of the situation breaks my heart when I see his hands shake and his eyes glance away. However, his beautiful personality and his desire to live his new life have given me hope for him and others like him.

Section III: My Clinic Experience

Juan’s story and my intimate connection to his well-being added to my passion for Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants Rights’ Clinic’s (“Clinic”) work. Within the first weeks of entering the Clinic, my partner, Carlos, and I were assigned an important and new task: we were to organize an event that would educate individuals on the important elements of asylum as part of Welcoming America’s Welcoming Week. Welcoming America, an organization that I grew very familiar with, truly embraces the ideals of diversity as a positive addition to communities.[ii] They celebrate refugees and aim to make communities more inclusive for all members, regardless of race or nationality. Being able to organize such an event left me feeling personally challenged and emotionally convicted to provide accurate and complete information. I had experienced the personal fear and endless stress that asylum cases can bring to families. I felt extremely invested in making the event a success, specially reaching out to the international communities of State College in order to make a lasting and positive impact. In the wake of the election, the Clinic played a special role in the community in order to bring sound advice and expectation. The “Asylum 101” event opened the doors of the school to groups of people who were scared or wanted to become more educated on immigration topics that impact community members. While working on the project, I found it easy to feel both discouraged and extremely lucky. So many children facing the horrific violence of Barrio 18 or the Mara Salvatrucha have been denied asylum and forced to return home to their potential deaths or torture because they do not fit a limited definition of “particular social group.” Even though I knew about many of the asylum requirements before the “Asylum 101” project, I was emotionally impacted by the need for information in the community and the human element that an in-person event added. Carlos and I spent countless hours researching asylum and trying to make the project interactive. I cannot begin to describe the time I spent trying to piece together what was needed to make the presentation brief with all the legally relevant information necessary. Professor Wadhia certainly played a huge role in the construction. I am grateful for her guidance because I am positive that it significantly helped at least a few members of the audience and educated others on the realities of the world. This has made me even more passionate to fight for justice by individuals who seek protection in the United States.

It is easy to write about such events, but the actual stories of such people deserve to be told with the emotion and compassion that reflects the soul. I only hope that through this essay, some people will feel emotionally impacted to make a difference in whatever their walk-in life. I have formed my future on the basis of the love and kindness that I have received. Certainly, many members of the immigrant community are surprised when they hear my story or wonder where I learned to speak Spanish like a “Salvadoreña.” I hope to use my life to promote positivity in every immigrant’s life. I understand the hopelessness that many people feel. My personal journey with the American immigration court system has just begun, and the fear that I have cannot be described by words on a page. I have learned, however, that individuals can make an impact in their profession. I may not be able to relate to everything that minority individuals face in life, but I hope that my story serves as encouragement to others facing adversity, even those in the legal profession. Taking action may not lead to immediate resolution, but it is a starting place for those who seek justice and peace. I have found Penn State Law and Professor Wadhia’s clinic to be a place of hope and support. The compassion that I have seen for the immigrant community inspired me to apply to Penn State and, ultimately, the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. The passion that I have seen come from each student in the clinic has left me with hope for the future and a desire to more fully participate in society. I have felt nothing but respect and inclusion from event participants in the state college community and have seen amazing things happen from impossible situations. Although I do not know exactly what the future holds, I am confident that my membership in the clinic will influence how I interact with clients in the future and i look forward to impacting individual lives in meaningful way.

[i] Unaccompanied Alien Children, Office of Refugee Resettlement,

[ii] Welcoming America: About Us, (last visited Oct. 20, 2017).


Citation: Bethany Parry, La Salvadoreña Adoptada: A Journey to Discovery and Understanding, in Back Into the Future of Immigration: Personal Stories by the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic (Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia ed., 2018).

Bethany Parry

Bethany Parry is a 2018 graduate of Penn State Law.

Class of 2018
Bethany Parry