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Martinez v. Sanchez

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 1, 2018

OSCAR ORLANDO MARTINEZ
v.
SILVIA TRUJILLO SANCHEZ

         Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAD16-17018

          Eyler, Deborah S., Kehoe, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          EYLER, DEBORAH S., J.

         Oscar 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).[1] Silvia Trujillo Sanchez, Jenniffer's mother, the appellee, has not participated in any of the proceedings in this case.

         Martinez presents one question for review, which we have reworded slightly:

Did the trial court err by failing to make the necessary predicate factual findings supporting its determination that Jenniffer was eligible for SIJ status?

         For the following reasons we shall vacate the court's order and remand with instructions.

         FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Jenniffer 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.

         In 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.

         On 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.

         On 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.

         Sanchez 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.

         On 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 ...


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