A Mother's Strength
Marisol came to the United States from Guatemala in 1997. Back then, there was a rise in poverty and crime in her village. She saw neighbors who were mugged in the street. Teachers were often assaulted just for having stable jobs, and, as a teacher, she feared for her life. She chose to leave Guatemala, hoping for a better life in the United States.
Marisol has been in the United States for 21 years now and has an 11-year-old son Max, who she says is her “entire world.” Max is the reason Marisol found Just Neighbors. Max has ADHD, and, a few years ago, Marisol was referred to a family services social worker to help her find resources to help Max. When the social worker met Marisol’s husband and son, she noticed that Max has bruises on his body and saw signs that Marisol was being abused as well.
When Marisol and the social worker finally got a chance to be alone, Marisol confirmed that she and Max were being abused by her husband. He controlled every aspect of their lives and was physically abusive toward both. At the time, Marisol didn’t have a cell phone of her own and had to go through her husband to communicate with anyone. The social worker gave Marisol the number to Just Neighbors, and she found a way to call and ask for help.
Just Neighbors took on Marisol’s case, helping her go through the U-Visa application process. Marisol needed several documents as evidence for her case including proof of her restraining order against her husband. When she was getting this documentation, the official she talked to told her she could receive assistance from the county to go back to Guatemala. She thought about that offer for a long time but realized that she could not care for her son who has ADHD and other health complications as well in Guatemala. She knew she needed to keep pushing forward with her case because her son needed to live here, the country where he was born, the only country he had ever known, and the only country where she could access the medical and educational resources he needs to thrive.
Marisol kept pushing through and found all of the evidence she needed for her case. Once her U-Visa application was approved, she received her green card. After experiencing so much trauma, Marisol had finally gotten the documentation she needed to help build a new life for herself and her son.
“Just Neighbors was able to help me escape domestic violence.” – Marisol
Now Marisol’s biggest wish has come true. She just became a United States citizen. Through the immigration legal services provided by Just Neighbors, Marisol and Max will now be able to live without violence. Marisol is excited to be a new American and hopes to find a new job and work on achieving her own American Dream.
“Just Neighbors helped me come out of the darkness, they gave me a path when I was lost.” – Marisol
Escape from Domestic Violence
Viola is from Honduras. She moved out of her family home at the age of 13 to escape being sexually abused by a family member. When she was 16, she married a police officer who was very well connected with the local government in their hometown. Viola’s husband was incredibly abusive and beat her regularly. She attempted to escape from this situation several times, only to be pursued and dragged back home by her husband. He began locking her in the house so she could not leave. She gave birth to a child a few years after her marriage began, but the child died as an infant after the child and mother were beaten severely by the husband. A year later, another child was born. Although Viola tried to have her husband arrested, she was continually intimidated and coerced into withdrawing charges. She knew that her husband was capable of perpetrating a murder if he was angry enough—as he had done to their son.
The government did not protect Viola, in part due to the abuser’s connections in the community. After years of suffering, Viola tried to escape to the U.S. with her surviving child; however, her husband found her and took the child away. Viola has not heard from her child since. Viola asked for and received asylum in the U.S. based on the abuse she suffered as a victim of domestic violence. Just Neighbors is working with Viola on two fronts: we are assisting her in applying for Lawful Permanent Residence, and we are helping her with a fee waiver because she cannot afford the $1,070 filing fee. Just Neighbors also assisted Viola in filing an application for the child she left behind, which was approved. We are continuing to work with her to try to find her child and bring the child to the U.S.
From Liberian Refugee to United States Citizen
In late 2009, Helen was struggling to get on her feet. As a refugee from her home country, Liberia, she and her family had recently suffered extreme hardship in refugee camps in a second country. She felt blessed to have been relocated to a third country: the United States. Only about 1 percent of refugees worldwide are resettled in a safe third country. Although refugee resettlement services temporarily assist refugees in obtaining basic necessities, stark cultural differences can make it challenging for new immigrants to find educational opportunities, effective job training, and stable employment. When Helen came to Just Neighbors, she had been in the U.S. for more than one year and was eligible to become a permanent resident.
By late 2010, Just Neighbors had helped Helen and her son obtain Green Cards. But Just Neighbors was able to do more for Helen: we were able to help her become a U.S. citizen. In January 2013, one of our dedicated volunteer attorneys, Jim Graham, began tutoring Helen in preparation for her citizenship interview. To become a United States citizen, a person must demonstrate that he or she can read and write English, and he or she must also pass a civics exam. In June 2013, Jim accompanied Helen to her interview. Afterward, he sent the Just Neighbors staff a text message that said, “Helen passed! 100 percent!” Soon thereafter, Helen took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and she is now a U.S. citizen in possession of a Certificate of Naturalization. Also, because her son is under 18, he automatically became a U.S. citizen along with his mother.
Surviving Violent Crime and Obtaining the Right to Work
Beatriz came to the U.S. from Guatemala in early 2007. She worked hard to support herself at a local restaurant in northern Virginia. While there, she met Jose, a frequent patron of the restaurant. They dated briefly. During that time, Jose went to the restaurant where Beatriz worked every night to keep an eye on her. He exhibited increasingly jealous behavior, soon controlling how she interacted with other patrons. When it seemed that jealousy had turned into obsession, Beatriz knew it was time to end the relationship.
Late one night in February 2011, while Beatriz was leaving the restaurant, Jose appeared and dragged her into his car. Despite her pleas to be let go, Jose told her that he loved her very much and insisted that she belonged to him. Jose sexually assaulted her and kept Beatriz captive for a day. Beatriz was able to escape with the help of a friend who had seen what had happened the previous night. Jose was arrested, and Beatriz cooperated with authorities in his prosecution.
Beatriz came to Just Neighbors in August 2011 upon the recommendation of a court advocate. Just Neighbors worked with Beatriz for several months in gathering the evidence needed to file a U visa application. Just Neighbors staff and volunteers were careful to handle the case with a great deal of sensitivity.
In June 2013, we received a U visa approval notice for Beatriz. Her reaction was priceless: she was beaming when she came to the office to pick up her new work permit. Although the circumstances surrounding her ability to obtain this status were grim, Beatriz has acquired newfound hope, and the ability to build a better future for herself.
Freedom from Religious Persecution
Solomon had not seen his wife Sarah and their three children in two years, but the children had far from forgotten him. Five-year-old Mariam called to tell him that she was learning to write her name, and she sent him drawings by mail. Twelve-year-old Meena reminded his father of the promise to buy him a bike one day. Solomon’s oldest son, Mark, reassured his father that he was taking care of the family. They all understood that their father had to leave them temporarily, hoping to create a better future for the family.
Solomon is a successful author of political and religious poetry. He left Egypt because of religious persecution against him: a backlash against his books. Although Solomon received asylum in the United States, he was unable to find gainful employment, and he struggled to live day by day. When Just Neighbors met Solomon, he was on the verge of homelessness. Just Neighbors assisted Solomon in filing for a Green Card and obtaining a waiver for the immigration fees that were beyond Solomon’s means.
Just Neighbors also helped Solomon file relative petitions to bring his wife and three children to the U.S., as well as navigate the complex process of obtaining interviews for his family at the United States Embassy in Cairo. In light of the danger that asylee family members often face, Just Neighbors works to expedite such case types.
Sarah wrote to her husband that “God is taking care of us . . . things are terrible in the country”; but she assured her husband that they would be reunited soon. She also reminded him of a few basic recipes, so he could cook for himself while they were apart. Solomon continues to strive to create a better future for his family.
Recovery from Political Persecution
Joseph was only three years old when he heard loud noises outside of his house in Somalia. His home had been bombed, and the rest of his family had fled for their lives. When relatives came back for Joseph, he was severely injured and almost deaf. His parents were nowhere to be found, and Joseph’s extended family could not confirm whether they were alive or dead. Because of the imminent danger of remaining in Somalia, Joseph’s family members made him a false passport and sent him as a refugee to live with family friends in Holland.
When Joseph was 11 years old, he was reunited with his aunt, who was living in the United States. He applied for asylum based on the political persecution that his family suffered in Somalia. Fortunately, his case was approved, and Joseph was able to pursue the educational studies that his family had dreamed of for him.
When he was 24 years old, Joseph came to Just Neighbors for help in obtaining citizenship. A Just Neighbors attorney assisted him in completing documentation and preparing for the citizenship interview. Despite his nervousness, Joseph answered every citizenship question correctly, and his case was approved! Joseph’s success was bittersweet because his aunt had recently passed away. She would have been happy to see her nephew become a United States citizen.
Despite the difficulties of being hearing impaired, Joseph is now working a part-time job while pursuing a degree in Information Technology.
Preventing Deportation for Young Immigrants
“I’m no longer a child and cannot be dependent on my parents. My father, our main supporter of our family, is chronically ill with kidney failure, which requires a lot of expenses. I plan to go to college this upcoming year and need to have a way to provide for myself away from home. It would be impossible for me to start my own life and be of any benefit to society after I graduate from high school if I don’t have employment authorization since I won’t be able to engage myself, or even start a career.”
The above statement was written by a sixteen-year-old girl who applied for the status of “deferred action” with the help of Just Neighbors. Each applicant must write a statement about why they would like authorization to work in the United States.
The application process for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACAs) opened in August 2012. Immigrants aged 15–30+ who have no legal papers, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, came here before the age of 16, and have kept a clean criminal record became eligible to apply for a work permit and to receive deferred action, which prevents their deportation.
After the application process opened, Just Neighbors scheduled hundreds of appointments for clients such as the sixteen-year-old girl quoted above. A study from the Immigration Policy Center estimated that more than 14,000 Virginians became immediately eligible for deferred action, and more Virginians become eligible each month as they turn 15.
Discovery of Unbeknownst Citizenship
Meena came to us because his wallet had been stolen, and his Green Card was in it. He needed our help in filing for a replacement Green Card. This case was slow going at first because we needed Meena’s help in gathering documents to apply for a fee waiver, since he did not have money to pay for a new Green Card.
However, as Just Neighbors began investigating Meena’s situation more closely, we realized that he was a minor with a Green Card when he came into the United States in 1999, and that later that year, his mother naturalized. Unbeknownst to both of them, he became a U.S. citizen in February 2001, due to a change in the law while he was still a minor.
The next trick was to obtain proof that Meena was a citizen. Through research and conversations with the Passport office, we learned that he could get a U.S. passport (proof of citizenship) by providing the following: his Ethiopian passport (with its dated entry stamp into the U.S.), his original birth certificate, his mother’s naturalization form, a small fee, and passport-sized photos.
When we called to share the exciting news with Meena, he was thrilled and shocked. He asked us three times to explain how this was possible! He can now fully enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship, and he was proud to have the opportunity to vote in the presidential election of 2012.