News & Views

Weekly Wins Round-up: January 2022

Dear Friend of HIAS PA,

This month’s HIAS PA Wins newsletter is special. Why? Well, first, because two of our clients were featured in the media last week—Merza, for his work with Skateistan and his journey to the U.S., and Esmatullah, for navigating the Philadelphia school system as an Afghan evacuee—and second, because all of our Wins this month have to do with some of our most vulnerable clients: Survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence.

Our Domestic Violence team works with survivors of human trafficking to ensure that they find safety in the US and can succeed in their new lives. I invite you to join me in celebrating these Weekly Wins dedicated to our resilient clients, human beings who have beaten the odds and who have gone on to the greatest thing of all: Survive and thrive in a world that tries to break them.

“Reuniting families is probably the best part of doing this work.”

I’ve been working with a client since 2016 who came to the U.S. about 15 years ago. She obtained permanent resident status through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2019, but we faced a significant delay in the consular processing for her two daughters, who she had left behind in home country when they were 10 and 12 years old, due to the pandemic. They finally attended their interviews and received their visas, and then they were reunited on December 31st! Reuniting families is probably the best part of doing this work.

-HIAS PA Domestic Violence Managing Attorney

Son of trafficking survivor returns to school 

I recently met with a client whose mother’s Trafficking (T) visa was approved about a year ago. The whole family is eligible to submit their applications for green cards now and my client’s son, who is 23 years old, came to the office to sign some documents. He had previously been enrolled in college without financial aid before his mother’s T visa was approved, but had to drop out due to financial strain during the pandemic. Just as his mother’s victimization rendered him vulnerable, his mother’s legal status also helped him stabilize and move forward. With the approval, my client was able to complete the college federal aid application and he started college classes with the help of financial aid last semester. It made me so happy to see him be able to resume his education!

-HIAS PA Domestic Violence Staff Attorney

Identification is critical!

One of my clients was able to get her city ID last week! As many clinics, banks, and other everyday services require a valid ID, my client was in desperate need of having some form of ID in order to access services she is entitled to. We ran into a lot of institutional, systemic, and financial issues in getting the client’s expired passport renewed and getting her a state ID/driver’s license. The city ID, which any resident of Philadelphia can apply for, was very accessible to my client in many ways. The office is located in Center City, the ID is affordable, and City staff provided my client with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter so that the entire process was accessible to her. Having a city ID will allow my client to feel more confident in seeking services. Huge shoutout to Philadelphia’s City ID team!

-HIAS PA Domestic Violence Case Manager

Advocacy from HIAS PA staff cuts through legal red tape

We had a great trafficking (T) visa win this week on the Domestic Violence team. Our client started working with HIAS PA in 2010 and my predecessor helped her to obtain a T visa in 2011. In the following years, she had to travel back to her home country in Central America various times to appear at custody hearings for her young daughter. The father—although not involved in the trafficking—had been very abusive, which was the reason our client came to the U.S. in the first place, and he continued to try to control her by dragging her through custody proceedings even though he had no intention of caring for the child.

To adjust status from a T visa to a green card, you have to accrue three years of continuous presence in the U.S., which means you can’t stay outside of the U.S. for more than 90 days. Unfortunately, our client was forced to stay outside of the U.S. for more than 90 days on various occasions due to delays and complications with the custody case. We asked United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to extend her T visa twice in order for her to accrue the 3 years of presence. When that happened, I filed her adjustment of status application, which was denied in 2019. USCIS held that once she broke her continuous presence by staying outside of the U.S. for more than 90 days, she couldn’t start “re-accruing” the 3 years upon re-entry. Not only did I think this was an absurd reading of the law, but also, I explicitly stated this as the reason for extending her T visa twice, which USCIS had granted.

At the end of 2019, we filed an appeal of the T adjustment denial with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). It took nearly two years, but finally the AAO issued their decision, agreeing with our reading of the law and sending the case to USCIS for further action!

-HIAS PA Domestic Violence Managing Attorney

Survivor of trafficking receives her green card

A green card arrived this week for a client who was my very first client at HIAS PA, when I started as a trafficking fellow. Since this client was a victim of trafficking and a trafficking (T) visa recipient, she had access to a work permit and many public benefits before getting a green card. But I think the real catharsis for this client is just knowing that finally she has the stability that a green card provides and that the long years of waiting with her immigration status looming over her are finally over. The T visa expires after four years and cannot be renewed. During that time, the T visa holder must apply for a green card or they will lose their status. Now that she has a green card, she never has to worry about losing status again. She was trafficked here as a child and she just wants to move forward with her life here as the single mother of two young kids and provide them with a better, more stable future. It’s hard to encapsulate just how destabilizing not having a fixed immigration status can be. For some reason my client’s case was delayed for a long time, even though it should have been approved months ago. She was so excited on the phone when I gave her the news and cried tears of joy when I gave her the green card! That huge heavy burden of feeling like you aren’t a permanent member of the community here, like everything could be taken away from you in an instant, is finally lifted for her.

-HIAS PA Domestic Violence Staff Attorney

In the seven years that I have been at HIAS PA, I have reflected often and have heard from others just as often about what a complex organization we are, due to providing an array of services to a wide diversity of people from all over the world.

While this complexity can sometimes make it difficult to share soundbites about our work, I believe that it mirrors the complexity of the people who we serve and the myriad needs and experiences that arise from the immigration journey.

I am proud to showcase this through these stories which reflect how our immigration law and policies—while ultimately life-saving for some—require the kind of specialized legal knowledge that we offer and which impact the lives of not only our clients but their children, from generation to generation.

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson

Executive Director

P.S. Did you miss our 3rd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Advocacy and Action, where we celebrated what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 93rd birthday by advocating for Afghan evacuees and Haitian refugees? Watch it here!