Client stories from Justice For Our Neighbors

Client stories from Justice For Our Neighbors

May 31, 2017

These stories are written by JFON staff. All names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Jose came to us after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was unable to pay his private attorney because he was undergoing chemotherapy and unable to work. Due to a misunderstanding with his previous attorney, he had allowed his work authorization to lapse and is at risk of losing his health insurance. Because Jose’s case is time-sensitive, and the great risk to Jose’s health, JFON has taken a multi-pronged approach to his case.

First, we filed an application to renew Jose’s work permit. Although we explained the situation to USCIS and requested expedited processing, it appears that request has not been granted. In hopes of speeding up processing before the deadline, we have reached out to Joni Ernst’s office for assistance.

In addition, we have filed an emergency motion for a decision in his immigration court case. Because Jose’s immigration case has been pending for so long, he is eligible for an old form of relief known as suspension of deportation, available to people whose deportation proceedings began in 1997 or earlier.

However, relief can only be granted to 4,000 people per year. The judge expressed that he was merely waiting for an available number at Jose’s last hearing in 12/2015. However, we also filed a motion in Jose’s case, informing the judge of changed circumstances and asking for a decision soon. A hearing is now scheduled in his case for this summer.

Jose and his wife have lived in the United States for over 30 years, working hard to support their US citizen children. Once Jose receives his residence, his wife will become eligible for a waiver that will allow her to apply for permanent residence as well.

Maria is young woman from Mexico who came to the United States looking for a better future. She used to work in a pig processing plan and met Juan, an American citizen. They began to talk as friends, Maria and Juan used an electronic translator to communicate better since Maria did not speak very good English. Juan and Maria dated for some time and after two years Juan gave an engagement ring to Maria and began to live together.
Maria found out she was pregnant but unfortunately, she had a miscarriage and lost her baby. Months later she got pregnant again and Maria and Juan decided to get married before their baby was born. Juan had a son of his previous marriage, but Maria does not care about it; in fact, she loved him as if he were her own child. As the time went by, Juan begins to be aggressive (mental, physical, emotional) against Maria. One of the reasons was the economy since Maria could not work at that time due to her pregnancy and could not help to cover all the expenses. Juan began to drink and the problems got worse. Maria’s baby was born but things didn't change.
The aggressions continued and Maria decided that it was better to get separated from him. Maria went to live in a shelter for victims of domestic violence and asked Juan for a divorce, but Juan told her that an illegal person like her could not have custody of his son and if she wanted to leave him or get divorced she would have to leave the baby with him.
The divorce proceedings began and that's when Maria's nightmare started. Before she could sign the divorce, they had to discuss about their son’s custody. When they appeared in court, the family court judge emphasized that Maria was a person who had no home to take her son because at that time she was living in a shelter. She did not have a good education for not having finished school. Maria was illegal and could not work to support her son, had no driver's license and that she could not drive her child to school. Maria did not have medical insurance and could not afford to pay a doctor for her child in case he became ill. Maria also had no close family therefore no one could help her care for her child.
However, Juan was an American citizen with a good paying job who worked from 8:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m. He could spend afternoons with his son. Juan had medical insurance for his son. He had a valid driver’s license. He was well-educated, and his parents could take care of his son at any tim. The family court judge did not even mention the domestic abuse at any time and gave legal custody to Juan.
Maria could not believe that she didn’t get the custody for being a woman without documents. She thought that the laws were unfair and that her situation was difficult. And not being able to fight for her son made her feel terrible, weak, powerless, humiliated and without rights to do anything. Maria decided not to get divorced and was forced to return with her abuser because she did not want to be away from her son. The abuse continued and at that time she contacted JFON.
Since Maria was married to a United States citizen and was a victim of domestic abuse, JFON helped her to apply for VAWA and to apply for her legal permanent residence. Maria’s case was approved and eventually she received her green card which allowed her to live and work in United States indefinitely
Maria feels now that she is a stronger woman. She believes that if she decides to leave her husband, she knows that the things would not be the same. She feels very lucky that our organization helped her to change her whole life. She knows that she cannot be discriminated and humiliated anymore and that no judge or anybody can take away the rights on her son.

Leslie is a 15-year-old from Mexico. She arrived in the U.S. last year fleeing abuse and to be reunited with her mother in Des Moines.

When Leslie was only a few years old her father abandoned her and her mother. Shortly after, Leslie’s mother came to the U.S. to find work to be able to provide for her daughter. Leslie was left in the care of her grandparents in Mexico.

When Leslie was 8 her grandmother passed away and her grandfather was her sole caregiver. At age 10, her grandfather began sexually abusing her.

For years Leslie felt like she had no one to turn to and was too afraid to report him to the authorities or to even tell her mother. Eventually, Leslie’s depression became obvious to her mother and her mother hired coyotes to bring her to the U.S.

Since arriving in Iowa, Leslie has gotten help from an advocate at LUNA whom referred her to JFON. JFON was able to obtain a predicate order for Leslie in partnership with the Drake Legal Clinic and now JFON has filed an affirmative SIJS case based on abandonment by father and abuse by caregiver. Her case is currently pending.

Martha is a young woman from Venezuela which used to travel to United States with her husband with a visitor visa.

In 1995, she was pregnant and while visiting the U.S, went into preterm labor and delivered her baby in Los Angeles, CA. The baby was born a U.S. citizen.

The family went back to Venezuela and stayed there for years. Martha had two other children, a boy and a girl. However, as time went by, an incipient dictatorship created civic and political unrest in Venezuela and an ever increasingly difficult economic situation. The family decided to leave Venezuela after Martha’s sister and nephew were kidnapped in 2013. The family feared for their lives.

The family came to the U.S. in 2015. They overstayed their visitors’ visas. They started consultations with attorneys and spent a lot of money with no results. They moved to Iowa and learned about JFON. The son who is a U.S. citizen, approached JFON looking for help finding options to legalize his family. But because he was still under 21 at the time, were unable to assist him.

When he turned 21, he petitioned for his parents. In September 2016, the father began the process to adjust his status in the US and obtained his work permit. Martha started her process later in January 2017, and awaits her work permit as part of her adjustment process.

They are deeply thankful for all what JFON is doing for them to pursue their dream to get their lawful permanent residency and eventually to become U.S. citizens like their older son.

Sang and Yetho
Sang and Yetho are husband and wife, and came to the United States as refugees from Bhutan, a small country in southern Asia. 

They are a loving couple, as well as good and caring parents to their three children. They also both suffer from profound hearing loss. 

Growing up in Bhutan, they were never allowed to attend school, and received no special services. Neither of them have learned any formal language skills, such as American Sign Language or International Sign. Instead, they have a simple sign language that they and their families invented. 

When Sang and Yetho came to JFON, they were desperate to find a way to apply for citizenship, but did not know how they would be able to pass the citizenship test and survive an interview without the ability to communicate with an immigration officer. 

JFON was able to help Sang and Yetho both obtain medical waivers for the usual citizenship test, and were able to negotiate with our local citizenship and Immigration Service office to allow Sang’s brother, who could communicate with Sang and Yetho in their own invented sign language, to translate for them in their interview.  Sang and Yetho each had their interviews in the morning, and by that same afternoon were successfully sworn in as our newest U.S. citizens. 

Wendy is a woman from Central America who first arrived in the United States in 1990, fleeing war and hunger. 

Twenty-seven years later, she has a husband, five U.S. citizen children, a home she and her husband own, and has been employed by the same company for over 15 years. 

In 1998, because of a natural disaster in her home country, Wendy was able to obtain a temporary legal status in the United States known as “Temporary Protected Status” or TPS.  But Wendy had never been able to become a Legal Permanent Resident, or a U.S. Citizen, and although she had legal status, she never felt stable or secure in the country that had given her refuge for so long. 

Finally, Wendy’s oldest daughter Melissa turned 21. That is the age at which an American citizen can first file for residency for a parent. JFON, who had assisted Wendy for years with her yearly TPS renewals, now could finally help her file her first application for legal permanent residency. 

After 27 years, Wendy is finally going to be able to truly feel that the United States is her home. 

Stuart and Esma
As a college student, Stuart traveled to Turkey and fell in love with the country and culture. After graduating from college he decided to move there and began working in an English language school as a teacher. At that school he met and fell in love with Esma. 

The two were married in Turkey and shortly after their wedding, decided to come to the United States for a short visit before returning to their lives in Turkey.  During their visit to the U.S., Stuart suddenly and unexpectedly fell ill and was diagnosed with kidney disease. The young couple’s lives were turned upside down. They decided to stay in the U.S. so that Stuart could receive the medical treatment he needed. Feeling overwhelmed with the stress of their situation, they turned to Iowa JFON for help in applying for Esma’s legal permanent residency.

Iowa JFON helped Esma and Stuart file all of the necessary paperwork. After the application was filed, Stuart’s situation become more serious and he was placed on a kidney transplant list. Iowa JFON was able to request that US Citizenship and Immigration Services expedite Esma’s case so that Esma had her interview months before she would have normally. Luckily Esma’s application was granted and she is now a Legal Permanent Resident! Soon after she received her green card, Esma and Stuart learned the happy news that they will soon be parents! 

This young couple has faced a great deal of adversity together but have hope for the future. Iowa JFON is happy that we were able to help them stay together in the United States to build their family.
Desire Muna was a bright young woman in South Sudan when her family agreed to marry her to Gamboy. 

Gamboy had been a refugee from South Sudan in years past, and had resettled in the United States. After obtaining his naturalization, he returned to South Sudan to seek a wife, and contracted to marry Desire. 

When the couple came to the United States, Gamboy expected her to work full-time in a meat-packing plant, but he would not allow her to use any of the money she earned, and forbid her from leaving the house for any reason other than going to work. When she objected, he became abusive. Soon she was pregnant, but Gamboy would not allow her to go to the doctor. 

One day after work, she decided to go to the doctor’s office on her own. When she returned home, Gamboy beat her so badly that she miscarried. A few weeks later, Gamboy beat her again. This time Desire had the foresight to record the entire beating with her cell phone, and as soon as she could, she called the police. When they arrived, Gamboy attempted to explain that Desire had attacked him because she was jealous, but she gave the police her cell phone with the recording, and Gamboy was arrested. 

Desire was now safe from her abuser, but her legal status in the United States had rested on her husband’s petition for her, and that process was not complete. Desire came to the Ottumwa JFON clinic. There we assisted her in filing Form I-751 to allow her to become a permanent resident, based on the domestic violence she had suffered. 

It took many months, but she was finally granted residency, and is now in the process of applying for citizenship. Along with her residency, Desire was able to get a driver’s license, find a new job, and now lives in safety.

Jennifer is a 15-year-old from Guatemala. Last year, Jennifer started talking to 28-year-old Luis from South Carolina on Facebook. After about 6 months of communication, Luis sent coyotes to Jennifer’s house so that she could come up to the US and be with him. At that point, Jennifer told him she did not want to go. However, Luis offered her parents money and so they forced her to go with the coyotes in exchange for payment from Luis. In Mexico, she was handed off to several different coyotes before being released over the US border where she was detained by ICE.

She was instructed by the coyotes to give Luis’s information to ORR so that she could be released to him. Instead, Jennifer immediately disclosed how she ended up in the US to both ICE and ORR and gave ORR her uncle’s information. Because she was being trafficked, she spent several months in an ORR shelter until they could be sure she would not be turned over to Luis. 

Her uncle lives in Marshalltown and she has now been reunited with him. They are both shaken by the whole situation. Jennifer’s uncle has received several calls from her parents telling him to take her to South Carolina so they can receive further payment from Luis. Her uncle has vigorously refused and has taken Jennifer in. I am currently working with both Jennifer and her uncle in order to have him appointed her legal guardian and assist Jennifer in applying for the Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa.

Martha was born in Haiti. She met her husband, José, in her country while he was on vacation. José used to live in Florida. Martha and José had a relationship by phone for about two months. Martha traveled to the United States with her tourist visa on several occasions to visit him. They loved each other and had strong connections among themselves and decided to get married.

Martha went back to Haiti and her husband began her immigration process. While Martha was in Haiti, a catastrophic earthquake occurred, and Martha lost her house and unfortunately her brother and father died. Martha came to the United States and applied for TPS (Temporary Protected Status).

Martha stayed in Florida and began to live with her husband. But things soon changed and José started to be aggressive and argued for any reason.

Martha’s stepdaughter and her husband began to call her names and mistreat her. Martha also discovered that José cheated on her. Even though Martha had already been in the United States, she didn't know anyone, she didn’t have any family in Florida and for that reason she needed her husband. José took advantage of Martha and forced her to work and took away all her money. José said that it was to pay her rent.

If Martha would not give him the money, he would kick her out of the house. It was very difficult to live with him because he would not let her leave and at the same time he would kick her out. Martha put up with the abuse and threats for several years. One day José received the interview appointment notice for her residence, but he did not appear at the interview and unfortunately her residence was denied. She argued with him and he hit her so badly she was taken to the hospital. Martha lied to the doctor about what had happened. José was very aggressive and she feared for her life. After that event, Martha escaped from José, and came to Iowa.

Martha was very happy to find out that there was an organization named JFON and that she had a chance to apply for her future legal residence as a victim of domestic abuse. JFON began to work with her and asked for the necessary evidence for her case, but unfortunately Martha feared for her security and decided not to apply for VAWA. 

Marta feared that her evidence would have ended up in José’s hands and he could find out and could kill her for saying that he had been aggressive to her. José had threatened Martha on several occasions that if she ever said anything he would kill her. Martha knows José could do that.

JFON staff had explained to her several times that all the information shared with JFON is confidential and that immigration would not give any information to her husband (abuser) but she decided to not proceed with VAWA case for her safety.

Martha, like many other victims, preferred to remain silent for fear, threats and security. Martha said, "My life is more valuable that any immigration status."

Unfortunately, there are many victims that even though could be helped by organizations like ours, they prefer to keep living in silence and not do anything because of the horrible things they have suffered and there is nothing that we can do to change their minds.

Luckily Martha has TPS and allows her to be in the United States legally for some time.

*All names and some other identifying information have been changed to protect the confidentiality of our clients

Maria was referred to JFON by a domestic violence caseworker. She and her 2-year-old daughter, fled Guatemala this year after suffering severe domestic violence at the hands of Maria’s common-law husband.

Maria suffered severe physical abuse, rape, and financial abuse. Her partner forced her to quit her job, where she earned $2 per day making tortillas.

He then refused to give Maria any money, leaving her unable to feed herself or her baby. When she sought child support, the clerk at the courthouse told her the abuse was her fault for living with a man she wasn’t married to.

Her partner, who had many guns on account of his job as a police officer, would frequently threaten to kill Maria and her parents. She and her daughter fled Guatemala in the back of a cattle trailer earlier this year. They were caught and detained at the US border.

We’re representing Maria in removal proceedings and helping her apply for gender-based asylum in the United States.