As an immigration attorney, I hear the life stories of immigrants from all over the world. I hear about the mothers, fathers, siblings, and children left behind; I hear about the choices people have made and the relationships that have flourished and failed. It’s a never-ending stream of sadness, hope, anger, and excitement. It’s the reason I became and remain an immigration lawyer.
One story, though, has become emblematic to me of the desperate need for reform.
My client is from Jamaica and was born deaf. She arrived in the U.S. in 1991 as a teenager and made her life here. She was married for many years to a United States citizen husband and had three children with him, but he never filed a petition for her to adjust her status. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic and my client eventually separated from him. Now, she is living on her own with her children as best she can, sometimes depending on the generosity of relatives to take her and her children in. But her relatives don’t know sign language and she does not read lips well, so she is often left alone in the world.
She finally came into my office seeing what, if anything, could be done for her. As a result of her marriage and the abuse she suffered, she is eligible for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and could eventually become a permanent resident. But the process can take a very long time and in the meantime, she remains in limbo. The Deferred Action program the President announced last year is still blocked by the courts so there is nothing to offer her right now. Even if the program is allowed to move forward, it would just be a temporary stopgap. But at least it would lend her some protection and freedom from fear.
Try and imagine what it is like for her on a day-to-day basis as she raises her young children, helps them navigate life, and tries to make sure they have a chance at success. Imagine that on top of the all-too-common fears of an undocumented mom, that the world is silent to you and that you cannot communicate the simplest things without great difficulty. Think of how terrifying everyday life would be.
This is why it is so important that Congress do something impactful when it comes to immigration reform. There are good people out there, doing their best to keep their families together despite the challenges they face, who are a hairsbreadth away from detention and removal. When will they feel a sense of security? When will their children finally be comforted with the knowledge that their families will remain united and will not be torn apart? When will Congress act?
Shared with my client’s permission. Her name has been left out to ensure her privacy.
Written by Robert Pures, AILA Member