A Path to Independence

The overarching mission of Just Neighbors staff and volunteers is to help all immigrants and asylees who come to our office become productive, accepted members of their communities in northern Virginia. But our team has a great deal of work yet to do.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States. They survive outside of official channels in order to avoid deportation and separation from their families. However, undocumented immigrants face another set of difficulties. They often work difficult jobs, for little money and become targets of violence, fraud, and other criminal activity. Over the years, their narrative has so often been marked by criminal coercion that in October, 2000, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began offering U nonimmigrant status (U visa). This visa provides victims of substantial mental and physical abuse (along with immediate family members) with protected status and employment authorization in exchange for their cooperation with law enforcement to investigate abusers.

Just Neighbors attorneys have worked on such cases before, such as that of Ms. Ando. When she initially came to Just Neighbors, Ms. Ando was suffering at the hands of an abusive husband, who was her sole means of financial support. With the guidance of our attorneys, Ms. Ando received a U visa and work authorization. She soon had a job that provided her with enough income to become independent, and although her job paid only minimum wage, she received labor rights and benefits as well. These events portended a turn in Ms. Ando’s independence and immigrant narrative.

Three years later, when Just Neighbors represented Ms. Ando in her application for a green card, she had improved her situation dramatically. By then she owned her own cleaning business and her children were thriving and happy. The path toward these accomplishments began when Ms. Ando’s community gave her a chance. She managed to escape the shadows outside the system when the system worked for her benefit. That investment allowed Ms. Ando to engage with law enforcement to track down her abuser and to provide for herself, her family, and her community. Her story is one of the motivators of our work.

Just Neighbors set a goal to help all immigrants and asylees. The reward for us lies in witnessing the courage and spirit demonstrated by those who walk the path out of the shadows.

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