This month, Maria received the joyful news that she would become a United States citizen! However, it was a long 4-1/2 years to get Maria to that point.
We began working with Maria in 2008, after her marriage to an abusive husband. Maria’s father, a lawful permanent resident, had petitioned for her several years before, but, while waiting for her green card process to start, she met a man and fell in love. After a long-distance courtship, Maria married in a huge Catholic wedding, knowing that the marriage would automatically revoke the petition her father filed for her. Maria moved to the Virginia area to live with her new husband, only to find out the man was abusive.
Maria lived in the abusive relationship for several years, bearing two children along the way. Maria’s concerned parents in Texas learned about a program in Northern Virginia for abused women and had their daughter contact the organization. The counselors there referred Maria to Just Neighbors for help with her legal status and assistance in getting her out of her abusive marriage.
A Just Neighbors attorney met with Maria on multiple occasions at a church near her home, where she could work with us undetected by her husband who watched her every move. After filing a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Violence Against Women’s Act, Maria’s case was approved. Just Neighbors then assisted her in obtaining her green card and connecting her with a family law attorney who helped her file for divorce, custody, and child support. Maria earned her green card three years ago.
This past summer, Maria turned to Just Neighbors a third time for assistance in applying for her citizenship. She had been working with the same attorney all these years, and that attorney was lucky enough to accompany Maria to her naturalization interview and watch with pride as she passed her test with flying colors. Maria is now a U.S. citizen and a registered voter! Moreover, she obtained a divorce from her husband this year and is living safely and without fear in the family home with her two young children.
It has been a joy to watch Maria grow from a fearful, anxious woman with no legal status to a full-fledged U.S. citizen and contributing member of our society. Despite Maria’s low-income, she insists on donating $50 to Just Neighbors whenever she is able so that she can help other women overcome their situations as well.
Quote of the Month
One of our volunteer attorneys received this email from a client after she received her long-awaited green card:
Thank you so very much, I couldn’t have made it this far without your and my Advocate’s help. May God bless you all, and may all your dreams come true! Amen!
There are several ways to measure the increase in need we are seeing among immigrants in our community for legal assistance. One metric that we capture is the number of phone intakes that Just Neighbors conducts each month from callers seeking help. The upsurge this year is staggering.
In 2009, we receive 96 calls per month. In 2010, 109 calls per month. In 2011, 117 calls per month. And in 2012, from January-July, we averaged 171 calls per month. Then, deferred action for childhood arrivals opened up, and in August and September we averaged 372 calls per month!
Janet, our longtime client, just passed her naturalization test at Immigration!
Back in July 2011, we wrote about our extensive work with Janet (see her story here). This month, after countless meetings, including tri-weekly study sessions with our social work intern, she passed her naturalization exam!
Janet came straight back to our office after she passed the test, jumping up and down and crying for joy. She said to us, “Back when my parents died, I wanted to die with them. Now I feel good, and I see my life moving forward.” Janet will be sworn in as a U.S. citizen soon. She continues to bring in food regularly to our office as a token of her appreciation.
Volunteer of the Month
Amanda Riley, Social Work Intern
As the social work intern at Just Neighbors, I am responsible for conducting basic assessments and providing case management services to Just Neighbors’ clients. I seek to help clients meet their basic needs and improve their overall well-being and ability to function in their environment. I am a Master of Social Work student at George Mason University, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work at Just Neighbors through April as part of my degree program.
This internship has given me the opportunity to work one-on-one with clients from diverse backgrounds to help them navigate difficult life situations. It has also given me a better understanding of some of the larger obstacles that the immigrant community in Northern Virginia faces, and as an intern at Just Neighbors, I’ve been able to advocate for policies that would help address some of these obstacles. I hope to continue working as an advocate throughout my career, and I am confident that working at Just Neighbors will provide valuable insight and experience that will help me along the way.