Profile in Courage – The Asylee Outreach Project
Patricia Awo immigrated to United States at the age of thirteen as a result of the Liberian Civil War. This internal conflict resulted in over 200,000 deaths and the displacement of countless Liberian nationals. Patricia’s father was granted political asylum in the United States and later petitioned for her to join him.
To many immigrants, the U.S. will provide freedom and the opportunity to build a comfortable life. However, the journey toward the American Dream is often ridden with obstacles and stresses untold abroad. Patricia’s first years in the United States were difficult and her family lacked many resources necessary to give her the life of which she dreamed. Several years after arriving in the United States she found herself in the Pennsylvania foster care system. She managed to remain committed to her education earning her high school diploma, but this was no easy task. She turned 18 during her senior year and “couch surfed” for shelter until she was able to finish and find a full-time job to support herself.
Patricia arrived at the office of HIAS Pennsylvania and the PA Asylee Outreach Project (AOP) in October 2012. She was down on her luck. Patricia was a single mother out of a job and had recently lost her rental unit because her landlord sold the house in which she rented. To make matters worse she possessed an Asylum I-94 that inaccurately indicated that her status expired. This documentation handicap resulted in the wrongful denial of public benefits for over a decade; benefits that could have been the springboard towards her self-sufficiency. Due to her circumstances, she was denied access to employment training programs and had limited success proving her work authorization to potential employers. For years she did not have the resources or know-how to remove these barriers. Patricia is a “go-getter,” but her attempts to obtain the correct documentation resulted in being redirected time and time again with no solution in sight.
The Asylee Outreach Project filed for Patricia’s first Employment Authorization Document. Despite her long residence in the U.S. and her previous representation by counsel, she had never known she was entitled to such a document. The AOP worked to develop a trust based relationship with Patricia. She was weary of attorneys due to a negative experience in a failed attempt to obtain a green card years prior. The AOP worked with Patricia to develop her resume and apply for jobs while waiting for her work permit. During this time she has patched relationships with family members and has benefited from their support. In 2013 everything has begun to come together for this single mother. With AOP case management and legal assistance and her persistent efforts she has taken great strides toward self-sufficiency. She has found permanent employment at GoodWill, attained long overdue public benefits, and finally applied for her green card. Additionally, she has been connected with a family savings account program for refugees through the Women’s Opportunity Resource Center. She is confident that this is her year and plans to save for a home that she and her daughter can call their own.