Julio Lopez’s Story


Julio Lopez has experienced extensive hardships during his immigration journey, from being trafficked as an undocumented minor to being exploited by his own family. Regardless, his resolve and courage have led him to establish a secure life filled with purpose and promise.   

Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Julio had little to no contact with his actual parents and was mostly cared for by his grandmother until her death. Then Julio bounced from one family member to another before being sent to live with his uncle. At just 12 years old, Julio was trafficked against his will by his uncle and family, who were smuggled into the United States. Julio ended up in Grand Rapids.   

Although Julio and his family had escaped the violence and uncertainty that haunted them in Veracruz, this was just the beginning of his new nightmare. Although only a child, he was told by his uncle that he would need to repay him for getting him into the U.S.  

For over a year Julio was forced to work nights and weekends at his brother’s cleaning service as an underaged, undocumented immigrant who could not speak English. His income was given directly to his uncle for the debt he claimed was owed to him.  

As Julio grew up and gained autonomy, he moved out of his uncle’s home and in with his brother, who allowed him to go to school and keep a portion of his earnings. This brief semblance of stability while working for his brother’s mechanic shop ended when his brother was tragically deported. 

During his 20’s, Julio suffered a catastrophic accident on a construction job that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Julio felt he was still suffering a life of uncertainty, even after everything he went through as a child, in addition to the constant fear that he would be deported like his brother.  

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program led Julio to ILJ-Michigan where attorney Jennifer Rosario determined he was eligible for a special T-visa available for victims of child trafficking. Eventually he was approved for T-1 nonimmigrant status, which allows him to remain in the U.S. and apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence) in just three years. Julio’s own determination led him this far, and he is ecstatic to finally be at this point following so much trauma.  

“I have so many thoughts,” Julio said. “I feel safe, I feel encouraged to pursue my goals. I feel safe in the fact that I don’t have to face deportation. It encourages me to do the right thing.”  

After so many ordeals, Julio has achieved remarkable milestones. Julio is now happily married and hopes to have children some day. He has learned English and recently completed his associate’s degree. Currently, he is participating in an internship with Mercantile Bank while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting.  

“ILJ-MI was very helpful in many ways; they advocate not just for me, but for everyone from many different countries and backgrounds,” Julio said. He also spoke up for those that may need similar help. “I have friends afraid of going to an attorney to even ask for help because they are in the shadows, but I encourage people to speak up, and advocate for themselves and to not feel alone.”  


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