"In my country, there is no justice," she said. "What I like about this country, there are laws here." ___ For now, the 16-year-old is clinging to her faith. She prays every night before going to bed, like her grandfather taught her. And she believes that God will take care of her.
"Even through everything that has happened, I still believe in Him" she said, referring to God. "I knew that He wasn't going to leave me alone."
As for the new asylum policy, Maria's lawyer plans to eventually challenge it. Brand said his case is unique in that Maria was actually kidnapped and held against her will. She didn't fear that this might happened _ it did happen, he said, stressing the police couldn't and wouldn't help her.
"If we can prove that this happened, how in the world do we not have enough compassion to take in this girl?" said Brand, who believes Sessions' ruling hurts desperate and vulnerable kids who need protection.
So does criminal defense attorney Bill Swor, who has handled many high profile and politically-charged cases, including challenging the federal government's attempt to deport hundreds of Iraqis who are lawfully in the U.S. and defeating the nation's first post-9/11 terrorism case.
"The attorney general's decision is cruel and ignores the fact that asylum, by law, was created to protect people whose governments will not, or cannot, protect them," Swor said. "The ruling ignores the fact that the government is powerless to stop gangs in certain areas."
As a result, Swor added: "Young people and their families who stay are faced with the option of joining a gang, or dying."
According to immigration attorneys, there are two ways that unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the U.S. can be allowed to stay:
They can qualify for asylum, or, for what's known as the Special Immigrant Juvenile visa. To qualify for that visa, a child must prove that they can't be reunited with a parent or guardian due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, or, that they are a victim of trafficking.
U.S. asylum law applies to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."
Unfortunately for Maria and teens like her, those fleeing crime and violence back home don't necessarily fit into these categories. Immigration judges, do, however, have discretion and have granted asylum to Central Americans who can show "a well-founded fear of persecution."
"There are very, very credible cases," said Cindy Karp, a Florida immigration activist who for two years ran a photography workshop for unaccompanied minor children. "I think every child who comes to the U.S. border and asks for asylum should be given a chance to explain their case, protected and given the legal support necessary to define their claims."
Karp, a former Time magazine photographer who worked in Central America for 10 years, saw plenty of violence. "I saw those countries when they were in the throws of total civil wars," Karp said. "The situation now is probably worse."
Under U.S. law, migrant children who arrive here alone cannot be deported right away. Rather, Homeland Security can only detain unaccompanied children for 20 days before releasing them to HHS, which then places the minors in foster care or shelters until a sponsor is located, typically a relative.
The child stays with the sponsor while their case makes its way through immigration court, which given the backlog of such cases, can take years.
This is a sore subject for the Department of Homeland Security, which has expressed frustration with illegal immigration and the hurdles it faces in trying to fight it.
"Unaccompanied alien children and family units are flooding the border because of catch and release loopholes," the DHS stated in a February news release. "Due to legal loopholes and court backlogs, even apprehended illegal aliens are released and become part of the temporary, illegal population of people that we cannot remove."
The DHS also believes that Special Immigrant Juvenile visas are being abused, claiming many children are able to obtain a Green Card through the special visa status, "even though they were smuggled here to reunify with one parent present in the United States." The agency also claims that unaccompanied minors who are allowed to stay with sponsors frequently fail to appear for court hearings or comply with removal orders.
According to the government, once these children are in the country, with few exceptions, they generally remain here. As DHS states:
"Only 3.5 percent of unaccompanied minors apprehended are eventually removed from the United States." Maria hopes she's not one of them.