Francine carefully maneuvered her wheelchair down the narrow hallway to our office. She and her eldest son Aaron showed up at CLIA feeling completely and utterly powerless. No one knew what had happened, least of all Francine, who believed she had done everything right. Aaron, a bright and talented high school senior found out that he, through no fault of his own, could no longer drive his truck to school, could no longer work his part-time job, and could not apply for athletic scholarships for his soccer talent. He was not even sure he could attend college in the fall, one of the dreams he and his mother shared. Their immigration options seemed hopeless and no one seemed to know how to help. That is until staff at CLIA took the time to listen carefully to Francine’s story.
Francine, a compassionate and caring woman, was an activist in Uganda fighting for the rights of the disabled. The Ugandan government persecuted her for her benevolent work. Unknown men showed up at her home and threatened and physically assaulted her. Eventually, she was forced to flee and to make the heart-wrenching decision to leave her sons Aaron and Matt behind. She arrived in the United States as an asylum-seeker in 2004. In 2011, her sons legally joined her in Lincoln, Nebraska. After seven long years of separation, their reunion was an insurmountable joy for Francine. She vowed to keep her family together and make a safe and happy home for her sons here in the United States.
Soon afterward, Francine was overjoyed to become a citizen, but her joy soon gave way to confusion and fear. She had not realized the negative immigration consequence this would have on her sons. Despite the fact that they had entered the country legally and Francine had seemingly done everything right—her 12 and 18-year-old sons were now in the United States with lapsed documentation. She did not know what to do to help. There did not seem to be a viable option. She had no money to hire a private lawyer. She was afraid that her sons had come to a stalemate and could possibly be deported back to the country which had persecuted her.
CLIA staff researched tirelessly for an alternative solution because it didn’t seem just; Francine and her family had done everything required by the immigration system and now Aaron was not only at risk of not attending college, but he could even be deported to Uganda where he feared for his safety. CLIA staff was able to find a form of immigration relief specifically designed for the problem they faced through hours of research and submitted Aaron and Matt’s applications within a week to the Immigration Service without charging Francine any legal fees.
Once immigration approves the applications, they can get on with their lives: Matt will continue his education in middle school; Aaron can attend college and may even be eligible for scholarships, both academic and for soccer; and Francine can rest assured knowing her sons have proper documentation. The cherry on top? Aaron and Matt can someday become United States Citizens as well. Francine is so grateful for CLIA’s work because, without it, her family could have been torn apart again.
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Chinese citizens Kim and Han had two children, and Kim was pregnant with their third. They publicly opposed China’s “One-Child” policy, which prohibits a couple from having more than one child. One night while they were asleep, Chinese police officers stormed into their home and arrested them. When they resisted, the officers beat them, tied Kim up, and took her to an abortion clinic. She begged and pleaded them not to harm her unborn child, but they performed the abortion against her will. Only one year later, Kim and Han were beaten and arrested again, and police forced Kim to have a reproductive device surgically implanted. Kim and Han knew they could not stay in China.
Six years ago, Kim wept as the airplane carrying her and her family touched down in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was the first time she had felt safe in many years. Kim, Han and their two children had come to Lincoln on Han’s student visa, but memories of the persecution and violence they had experienced at the hands of the Chinese government still haunted Kim.
Finding safety in Lincoln, Kim knew that China would never be a safe home for her family. If they returned, they would be subjected to the same persecution as before, solely because of their two children. Also, Kim feared for the life of their daughter, Katie, a bright, active 9-year-old with her father’s smile. The Chinese government considers the second child in a family to be illegal. As an “illegal” living in China, Katie would never be allowed to marry, get a good job, or travel. Even worse, girls who are second children in China often disappear into the sex trade.
Kim was determined to seek asylum in the United States. She knew she needed legal assistance from someone with a thorough knowledge of asylum case law. Han’s student visa allowed him only part-time work and prevented Kim from working at all. They barely had enough money to pay for necessities and could not afford an attorney. Kim turned to CLIA, the Center for Legal Immigration Assistance, for affordable legal service and for the expertise in asylum law crucial to her case.
With the help of CLIA’s consulting attorney and an intern from the UNL College of Law, CLIA won asylum for Kim and her family. They received work authorization and lawful permanent residency. They are now able to remain in this country without fear of being forced to return to China. They would be able to protect and cherish their children without further persecution. Even more important, Katie is safe from violence and will grow up with legal rights and opportunities. Kim credits CLIA with saving Katie’s life.
Anet personifies courage, perseverance and hard work. Born in Mexico, her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was less than a year and they settled in Illinois.
She experienced a number of difficulties growing up and as a young woman experienced the trauma of domestic violence. Her loving foster family who had worked with CLIA to obtain a green card, suggested that she contact CLIA for help. There she learned that Congress had created a visa called a U visa for victims of domestic violence in order to encourage the arrest and potential conviction of the perpetrators.
Those eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa must meet these criteria:
• Victim of qualifying criminal activity.
• Have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.
• Have information about the criminal activity. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may
possess the information about the crime on your behalf (see glossary for definition of ‘next friend’).
• Were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on your behalf.
• The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
• Are admissible to the United States.
Anet had helped law enforcement successfully prosecute the crime against her and they agreed to cooperate with her to attain a U visa.
That was the first of many steps to be approved for a U visa. Numerous pieces of documentation were gathered to accompany the 25-pages of forms, including a detailed statement describing the trauma and the long and short term effects suffered by the victim, certified statements from the police department and/or the county attorney, and letters of support from employers, teachers, therapists.
She and CLIA staff worked with the Lincoln Police Department’s Victim and Witness Unit to obtain police statements. Anet secured letters of support from employers (she had been working since she was 15), teachers, therapists, her pastor. After more than 20 hours of legal work, CLIA submitted the application package to the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Service).
When Anet’s application was submitted the average wait for first response was about 1 year. (Now the wait time averages 2.5 years.)
After one year, the USCIS responded with questions, requesting one more statement from the police, which Anet was able to obtain in about one month, a quick turn-around. The information was returned to the USCIS and about one month later, the visa was approved, visa, qualifying her to obtain an Employment Authorization Document, the coveted ‘work card’ which allowed her to work in the US legally for 4 years.
After 3 years the U Visa recipient is allowed to apply for a Green Card. Déjà vu.
The application process is remarkably similar: a lengthy form, accompanied by letters of support from employers, teachers, pastors. Health documentation, current vaccinations. Fingerprinting. Criminal background checks. And month by month documentation that the applicant has been in continuous US residence for the past three years.
The application fee is $1225. Anet filed a fee waiver and submitted all the documentation proving her income was less than 150% of the poverty level. The paper piled higher. Finally, the total package was submitted.
Six weeks later, good news: the fee waiver was granted. Then another 12 month wait. During this time her original work card, good for four years would expire, so yet another renewal application was submitted.
Three months ago, six years after this journey began, Max received the news: Anet’s green card was approved. He had the pleasure of telling her, seeing her glowing face when she came to the office to get it. At last.
Anet can breathe easy now. Or can she? Indeed, compared to the first 25 years of her life in the US, her situation is vastly improved. But the anxiety is only partially relieved. The national conversation and controversy around immigration has only heightened the fears of Anet and persons like her. What may change next? Will renewal requirements be stiffened? Will the pathway to citizenship remain open? Unanswerable questions remain.
Anet is deeply grateful to be where she is, looking ahead to continued employment at a physicians’ practice, raising her five-year-old daughter Ayva, thinking about nursing school in the future. In five years she can apply for US citizenship. She says she could only have done this with the support of her foster family, her church, and CLIA.
And she prays that others will be so fortunate.