Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAD16-17018
Deborah S., Kehoe, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned), JJ.
DEBORAH S., J.
Orlando Martinez, the appellant, noted this appeal from an
order of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County
granting him custody of his daughter, Jenniffer Elizabeth
Martinez-Trujillo ("Jenniffer"), and declaring her
eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile ("SIJ")
status, under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J). Silvia Trujillo
Sanchez, Jenniffer's mother, the appellee, has not
participated in any of the proceedings in this case.
presents one question for review, which we have reworded
Did the trial court err by failing to make the necessary
predicate factual findings supporting its determination that
Jenniffer was eligible for SIJ status?
following reasons we shall vacate the court's order and
remand with instructions.
was born on July 9, 2000, in Santa Ana, El Salvador, to
Martinez and Sanchez. At first, she lived with both her
parents in Santa Ana. In 2003, Sanchez left Martinez and
moved away to live with another man. Jenniffer remained with
Martinez. Since then, with the exception of one conversation,
Sanchez has had no contact with Jenniffer.
2006, Martinez moved to the United States to find work and
escape gang activity. He arranged for Jenniffer to live with
his mother in El Salvador. Martinez settled in Silver Spring,
Maryland, with his brother, Ronald Reagan Martinez. He
obtained steady employment. Throughout his time in the United
States he maintained regular contact with Jenniffer by
telephone and sent money to El Salvador for her support.
Martinez remarried and now lives with his wife, who also is
from El Salvador, in an apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland.
March 28, 2015, when she was 14 years old, Jenniffer left El
Salvador, traveling north into Mexico with Martinez's
stepson, Cesar. They crossed the border into Texas on April
17, 2015, and were apprehended by the United States Border
Patrol. They were released into Martinez's custody.
Jenniffer has lived in Hyattsville with Martinez, Cesar, and
her stepmother since then.
April 12, 2016, in the Circuit Court for Prince George's
County, Martinez filed a complaint for custody of Jenniffer
and a motion for findings that would make her eligible for
SIJ status under 8 U.S.C. section 1101(a)(27)(J). In addition
to the facts recited above, he alleged that before Jenniffer
left El Salvador, a girl she knew tried to recruit her on
behalf of a gang. Jenniffer refused but was likely to be
recruited again. He further alleged that Jenniffer's
mother had abandoned her and that his own mother was
"getting old" and was "dealing with some
medical issues" that made it difficult for her to
continue to care for Jenniffer.
was served with the complaint in El Salvador but did not file
an answer. On January 17, 2017, the court entered an order of
default against her.
February 6, 2017, the court held a hearing on Martinez's
complaint. Jenniffer, then age 16, testified that she was in
the tenth grade and was attending a local public school. She
planned to go to college to study industrial engineering. Her
father and stepmother were supporting her, and she was happy
living with them. She had left El Salvador because she
"wanted to do better in [her] life" and to be with
her father. She had no relationship with her mother. Her only
contact with her ...