Updates from DC: Kelly Hii's First Quarter
"Every day I am more and more grateful for the opportunity to be a fellow at Ayuda."
It was still dark outside when we pulled into the parking lot. My morning coffee hadn’t quite kicked in yet as I stumbled into the small, brightly lit waiting room of a non-profit organization that works with survivors of domestic violence on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. As I looked around, I was surprised to see how many people had shown up. The room was filled with women waiting for an immigration consultation. Some made eye contact with us and smiled kindly. Others looked anxious and kept their heads down. They all had suffered greatly and were looking for some relief.
In this part of the state, legal immigration representation is hard to come by. Most of the private attorneys that do exist are out of the question for survivors of domestic violence because of the cost. That is why Ayuda teamed up with this local non-profit organization to provide free immigration consultations for 15 of the organization’s clients. I had the privilege of assisting with five of these consultations led by an Ayuda attorney.
Needless to say, we listened to some heartbreaking stories that day. We also witnessed tremendous acts of bravery as one by one, the clients opened up and trusted us with their past. I was amazed but not surprised by the resilience demonstrated by these women as they continue to work hard at often difficult jobs to provide for themselves and their families. What was surprising, however, was that most of them actually did have a viable form of immigration relief and did not even know it.
"We listened to some heartbreaking stories that day. We also witnessed tremendous acts of bravery as one by one, the clients opened up and trusted us with their past."
With news coming out almost every day about the termination of different forms of immigration relief, many non-citizens assume that they have no option to remain here legally. Many also believe that they are unable to access basic human necessities, such as affordable food and health care. These new and complicated changes in law and regulations have not been clearly explained to those whom they affect most, resulting in great fear and despair within parts of the immigrant community. While a lot of these assumptions are well-founded, there are many folks who do have options but have not pursued them due to lack of available and affordable legal representation.
Many clients we met with during the consultations were surprised that they could in fact continue to receive public benefits and were likely eligible to apply for a visa based on surviving domestic violence. It was a powerful experience for Ayuda attorneys to provide the proper information and watch the client’s eyes light up as they considered a brighter future.
Because there were so many clients, we were only able to meet with each one for about an hour- just enough time to earn the clients’ trust, hear about their background, and get enough details to see whether and for what type of case they might qualify for. Before we left, we made sure we had spoken to each client about their rights and the process for applying for immigration status and responded to all their questions. We promised that we would discuss their case with our team and get back with them soon about the potential for full representation. I was excited to get back to the office to talk through the cases, and even more excited when I was assigned to represent a few of these clients on my own.
Every day I am more and more grateful for the opportunity to be a fellow at Ayuda. For anyone who is not familiar, “ayuda" means “help” in Spanish. While we do help our clients with their immigration matters, I’ve realized it’s more than that. We get to work with our clients to take whatever traumatic and heartbreaking thing that happened to them in the past and use it as a building block for a better future. I am constantly blown away by the positivity, hard work, and gratitude displayed by our clients, despite the all the barriers they face in their daily lives. I am humbled that I’ve been able to play even just a small part in our clients’ journeys towards achieving their fullest potential here in the United States.
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