The Case for Cayla: When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime

by Meghan Moore

Sex trade. Human trafficking. Death threats. These are words we associate with an episode of Law and Order: SVU, not with what is happening in the safe haven of our own communities. So it may shock you to hear the story of Cayla Roberts, a 24-year old woman who was brought to the United States as a young teen by human sex traffickers.

Cayla is from China. When she was 14, her father sold her to human smugglers to pay off a gambling debt (telling her mid-trade that the sack of potatoes in the corner was more valuable to him than she). The smugglers, referred to as “Snakeheads”, snuck Cayla into the United States. Before she was actually sold into the sex industry, Cayla was taken into custody by immigration authorities. When she contacted her father, he told her he would kill her himself if she returned to China. On top of that, Snakeheads called the detention center where she was held and threatened her.

After spending months in a juvenile detention center for unaccompanied minors, Cayla was eventually placed with a foster family in Grand Haven, MI, who she now considers to be her “forever home.” She graduated from high school and is about to graduate from college with a double major.

The circumstances of Cayla’s entry into the United States are shocking. What’s even more shocking? The United States government wants to deport her.

Over the past nine years, Cayla has repeatedly requested and been denied relief under our nation’s immigration laws. She applied for “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” which is granted to certain unaccompanied minor immigrants who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents, and she was denied.

Twice, she applied for asylum that is granted to certain people who can show they have suffered persecution in the past or will suffer persecution in the future in their home countries based upon their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  She was denied. Cayla is now married to a United States citizen , an Air Force vet, at that, and still, there is no way for her to stay in the country which has become her home.

Any and all relief she has available to her will require a trip back to the country which now considers her to be a traitor and where she feels her liberty will be at stake and her life will be in danger.

In their final efforts to allow Cayla the opportunity to stay in the United States, Cayla looked to a recent policy of the Obama administration for help. The policy, referred to as “Prosecutorial Discretion” allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement arm of the Immigration authorities, to focus attention on “high priority” enforcement cases (think: terrorists, felons, habitual immigration law offenders) and close the cases of “low priority” cases (think: Cayla Roberts). If ICE considers your case to be low priority, your case is closed and, for the most part, Immigration looks the other way at your presence here.  If you can believe it, it seems that ICE has declined to exercise its discretion in Cayla’s favor.

As shocking as this situation is, it is not unusual. As an attorney practicing exclusively in immigration law, I was saddened but not shocked to hear this story.  Cayla’s story is one example from a large group of our immigrant population: these are children who were brought to the U.S. by parents, relatives or strangers and who had no choice in the matter, who grew up in the U.S. as if it were their home, who speak English perfectly, who often remember nothing about their country of origin, who identify themselves as American, and who are ineligible to obtain social security numbers, driver’s licenses, jobs, or financial aid to attend college.

These students are referred to as “DREAMers,” a reference to the DREAM Act, a proposed law which would provide a path to residency for this group of immigrants. Our immigration laws currently provide the majority of these youth no way to stay in the U.S. legally.  If they leave the U.S., they cannot return for at least 10 years.  Here they must remain in the shadows, and we are deprived of their potential contribution to all aspects of our society.  Disappointingly, the DREAM Act has been repeatedly voted down in Congress, most recently in September 2010.

At this point, the only option left for Cayla Roberts is the passage of a private bill, a rare form of immigration relief in which Congress passes a law granting an individual legal status. Representative Bill Huizenga introduced a bill on Cayla’s behalf on June 8, 2012. Only time will tell if it will pass.

Cayla is the kind of citizen we want in the United States. She is smart. She is a contributing member of society. She has done everything in her power to comply with immigration laws. I encourage our community to recognize and support Cayla’s case, but also to look beyond it to the thousands of other undocumented youth who are in similar situations.

To learn more about Cayla’s case and show your support, visit

To sign the petition, visit


Meghan Moore is a Partner at Avanti Law Group, PLLC where she exclusively practices immigration law. To learn more about her firm, visit



2 thoughts on “The Case for Cayla: When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime

  • June 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    What an amazing story!

    • June 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      And now with the incredible news about the DREAMers, there may be and hopefully a dream come true for millions, one step at a time….

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