Esmeralda came to us in October 2008 accompanied by a paralegal from a legal services organization, who asked us if we could help her with immigration; he had been helping her with child custody.
Esmeralda married her childhood sweetheart and lived happily with him as they started a family in Nicaragua. Soon after their fourth child was born, he died. At age twenty-two, Esmeralda became a widow with four children to support and no job. She was so desperate that she left her children with her mother-in-law and tried to cross to the United States to find work. She was stopped at the U.S. Mexican border and turned back. Pedro was also at the border that day and was also turned back. Pedro was kind to Esmeralda and offered her protection.
When Pedro and Esmeralda later tried to enter the United States together, Pedro (a known gang leader) was once again refused entry. Esmeralda, however, was treated very kindly by the border agents. Although they started the paperwork for Esmeralda to be deported, they also helped her find a place to stay for the night and put her in touch with her brother in Virginia for further assistance. We now think that the agents were trying to help her get away from Pedro.
Esmeralda had a few months of safe bewilderment as she began life in the United States and started to send money back to her children. But then Pedro found her. Pedro was violent to Esmeralda, and he threatened her children in Nicaragua if she were ever to speak out against him. Pedro and Esmeralda had two children together. The neighbors were aware of the domestic violence, and called the police. Esmeralda said nothing the first few times the police came to her apartment.
Finally, a police officer saw Pedro strike Esmeralda when they were outside; the police arrested him. With Pedro in custody on domestic assault charges, Esmeralda began to get information about domestic violence. Terrified because of the threats posed to her and her children by Pedro’s gang connections, she nevertheless met with the prosecuting attorney and agreed to testify against Pedro. She attended every appointment as they prepared for trial. When Pedro saw her in court, he pled guilty. He was deported. It was easier for the police to bring domestic violence charges than to corroborate their suspicions of his gang leadership.
Esmeralda was subdued and soft-spoken; she was observant and appeared to understand everything, but she never asked a question and never uttered two words when one would suffice. We put her U visa application together as the victim of a violent crime, with the strong support of the prosecuting attorney.
After months of working together she called and asked her attorney if she could get married! Esmeralda had met a gentle man and wanted to marry him. Esmeralda began to change. She had a light in her eye and a smile on her lips and became vivacious and talkative. With her application filed and her home a safe one, Esmeralda began to emerge from the shell to which she had escaped. As the months passed, her application was approved as well as those for her children still in Nicaragua. She called weekly, eager to chat and to learn if any progress had been made.
There were great delays in the consular processing of the four children. There were also some delays caused by the family in Nicaragua; their paternal grandmother was heartbroken to say goodbye to them. The children arrived in the United States this past January, and Esmeralda brought them in to the office to meet us two weeks later.
A volunteer wrote to Allison Rutland Soulen (our Director of Legal Services who is still in Scotland) to share the good news: They are quite an imposing group. Three of them are teenagers now, all taller than their mother. I can’t imagine what it has been like to go from a family of 4 to a family of 8 overnight. (And they’re stuck in the same apartment until June.) But they all seem to be great kids that have been well cared-for.
In Esmeralda’s story, every official who came into contact with her seemed touched and seemed to go above and beyond to assist her. She is a lovely person, and it has been a pleasure to help her.
Support Just Neighbors by Just Walking!
Just Neighbors, along with five other member organizations at our Connections for Hope office in Herndon, will host the first annual “Walk for Hope” 3 mile/1 mile walk-a-thon fundraiser on Saturday, May 21st at 9am. All are invited to walk and raise funds for Just Neighbors. Afterwards, learn about the work we do at Connections for Hope while you enjoy music, awards, raffles, and kids activities. For every $50 you raise for Just Neighbors, you will be entered into a drawing to win an Apple iPAD! Pre-registration for the walk is $30 for adults and $15 for kids. For more information, please visit: https://bos.etapestry.com/fundraiser/HelpingChildrenWorldwide/walkforhope/ .
Just Neighbors still has Neighborhood Assistance tax credits available for Virginia residents who donate $500 or more to Just Neighbors. These individuals will receive a 40% tax credit on their donation for 2011, in addition to normal federal and state income tax deductions for charitable donations. Please note that on-line donations DO NOT qualify for this program. For more information, visit http://www.justneighbors.org/donate .
Around the Office
One of Just Neighbors’ most indispensable and longstanding volunteers, Adela Rivera, was recently honored by her former employer for her work at Just Neighbors. The Association of Retirees of the Inter-American Development Bank recognized Adela as “Volunteer of the Year 2010 for her dedication and leadership in helping the low-income Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees in Northern Virginia.” Just Neighbors was given a monetary award in her honor.
Volunteer of the Month
Marin Ping has set the record for the longest daily commute by a Just Neighbors volunteer, traveling two hours each way from West Virginia, 3-4 days each week! Marin assists in the front office and has also helped with a variety of casework issues, thanks to her Spanish skills. Marin graduated from Allegheny College this past May and is looking for full-time employment. Thank you Marin!