NWIRP's legal services are critical to helping thousands of immigrants in Washington State navigate the complexities of the United States immigration system so they can apply for asylum or other forms of immigration protection. Without appropriate legal assistance, the men, women and children served by NWIRP may be less likely to obtain legal immigration status, and more likely to be returned to a country where they face ill treatment, torture, or even death.
Access to NWIRP's services can also be a major factor in providing economic and personal security. Without legal support, our clients are often unable to access medical assistance, housing or other basic services, and many of them are afraid to call the police for protection from domestic violence or other crimes.
After a few months of living together, I saw changes in my husband when he got a drug problem. He started abusing me, and he was very controlling. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t talk to friends or neighbors. I couldn’t even talk to my family.
I had come to the United States from the Phillipines with a fiancé visa, but my husband never renewed it for me. I was stuck. I was left alone. I couldn’t work. I didn’t know how to survive in America. Then I found NWIRP.
NWIRP helped me file for a U Visa. Every time I came down to see Jenny Mashek, my attorney, I was crying. She listened, lifting up my spirits. She was the first person that didn’t give up on me when the world was crashing.
So when I got my green card last month, it was the best thing of my life. Now, I work, and volunteer, and share my story to help inspire other women.
Franselia grew up in a small town in El Salvador. She suffered significant child abuse when she was young, but persevered throughout and graduated from high school. Shortly after graduating, her boyfriend was murdered by a well-known gang in El Salvador. After reporting the murder to the police, local gangs began to threaten her.
Franselia came to the United States to seek safety. Once she arrived at the United States/Mexico border, she was apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and was sent to the Northwest Detention Center to be detained while she awaited her deportation hearing, which would decide if she could stay safely in the US or be deported back to El Salvador.
Megan, an attorney NWIRP’s Tacoma office, met Franselia during a Legal Orientation Presentation and was able to take Franselia's case for direct representation.
Afer being detained for nearly seven months, Franselia was granted asylum.
Despite a life filled with hardships, she is consistently optimistic. Franselia is excited to be reunited with family members now that she has been released from detention.
I came to the United States from India as part of an arranged marriage. My husband became abusive, both physically and verbally. He refused to let me work or to even leave the house without him. After a few years, he completely abandoned me. I ended up at a women’s shelter.
I was lost, alone, and vulnerable in a country I barely knew. The shelter told me to contact Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I don’t know how I could have afforded an attorney without NWIRP. They took my case, showed me kindness, and helped me get a green card. The day I got that card was incredible. It gave me a confidence that made me feel like I could achieve anything.
Now I am independent and am excited to apply for US citizenship soon.
Jorge and Mireya
At the beginning, it was nerve-racking. We heard stories of attorneys taking advantage of other people. But once we got to know the staff of NWIRP, they were like family to us. They could relate to what we had gone through. - Jorge
NWIRP changed our lives, as a couple, by validating opportunities we couldn’t have before. I got an offer for a job a month after my DACA application was accepted. So we got out of the Yakima Valley and we decided to come to Seattle to start a new life. It really made the difference of validating my dreams. Before, people would say – why do you dream? Why do you go to college? You’re not going to be able to work after you graduate. So, NWIRP’s services helped my dreams come true. - Mireya
For me – I’ve been able to finish my graduate studies. I’m currently pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Washington. After getting DACA, it made everything easier. - Jorge
Sarai and Jorge
It started many years ago – the bane of my problems with deportation, and it was a very difficult case. So difficult that not a single lawyer would take my case. Not even for money. It was like I was trapped in a tunnel thinking no one wants to take me out of this. I scream for help, and no one can hear me. But still, I kept looking. - Sarai
When we got help from NWIRP, I felt so relieved – almost like a desert plant finally getting rain. I can now live a much more stable and secure life with my family. I am much more confident to fully embrace this American life. NWIRP really helped us chase our dreams. - Jorge
Joseph and Naomi
Joseph is a Tutsi refugee who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the United States in the late 1990s during the genocidal Hutu-Tutsi conflict. He was forced to leave his wife Naomi after participation in a peaceful protest left him arrested, imprisoned, beaten, hospitalized and threatened with death.
After arriving in the US, Joseph was immediately put in deportation proceedings. NWIRP placed Joseph’s case with a pro bono team from Davis Wright Tremaine. More than 10 years after Joseph first applied for asylum, and following many legal battles Joseph and Naomi were finally reunited. Overjoyed at being together again, the two hope to start the family they have always wanted.
I left Somalia for a lot of reasons. My father, my three brothers, my uncle were all killed. I didn’t feel safe. There was no justice, a lot of corruption. In 2010 I came to the United States. I made my way through Cuba, Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico before getting to the US.
Those first 24 hours here were the hardest of my life. We were put in a very cold room. All of our possessions were taken away. From California, we were sent to immigration detention in Tacoma, Washington. That’s where I spent the next four months. That’s where I met NWIRP.
We looked forward to their visits. They tried to get the Somali community in this city together for us. They helped prepare our asylum cases. They made sure I got out of there. Their work, to be honest, was extraordinary. NWIRP is about helping people who need help. I really thank you guys. It helped knowing people cared.
Now that I’m here, ...I want to work in the medical field, doing something other people can benefit from.
In 1998, Sergey and his two sons fled Ukraine due to religious persecution and sought safety in the United States, where they were granted asylum.
A few years later, even as Sergey’s sons were serving with U.S. forces in Iraq, Sergey was detained. He had traveled abroad and when he re-entered the U.S., immigration officers claimed that he did not have the proper paperwork, despite his asylee status. A judge ordered him deported to Ukraine.
With the help of a Northwest Immigrant Rights Project attorney, Sergey appealed his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, where he prevailed. His deportation order was dropped, and last year, Sergey became a United States citizen.
Bulgarian Client Receives Amnesty after 11 Years
In his home country of Bulgaria, there was hardly a moment in Ivan's life when he wasn't being persecuted for his or his family's anti-communist political beliefs and activities. Even while in his mother's womb, Communist officials severely beat his pregnant mother. As an outspoken youth, he was interrogated and detained several times. As an adult, Ivan spent 15 years of his life being physically and psychologically tortured in various prisons. He lost hearing in one ear during an explosion that was meant to take his life. Ivan was finally forced to flee Bulgaria to protect his family and preserve his own life.
When Ivan arrived alone in New York in 1993, he received assistance in completing an asylum application from a local church and was temporarily allowed to live there. With money from the church, he moved to Seattle to find work. In 1994, Ivan sought the assistance of NWIRP, which identified a pro bono attorney to represent him. While his joined the backlog of asylum applications, Ivan struggled to find work and was forced to live on the streets in an old van he bought with earnings from occasional day labor work. In the years that followed, Ivan lost contact with his pro bono attorney. NWIRP attempted to locate Ivan, but Ivan was homeless.
When Ivan returned to NWIRP a few years later to check in on his case, NWIRP's Asylum Unit took the case, helping Ivan apply for food stamps and connecting him with important services in the community. After more than 11 years, NWIRP finally received an asylum interview notice for Ivan. On February 23, 2005, nearly twelve years after Ivan first came to the United States and applied for asylum, Ivan had been granted asylum protection in the United States.
Note: To protect his privacy, client's name was changed for this story.
Client Qualifies for Relief under the Convention Against Torture
On any given day, thousands of men, women and children are detained by the Department of Homeland Security. They include asylum-seekers and survivors of horrific abuse. Most of them will face years in prison. Only ten percent of them will go before a judge with the help of an attorney.
Masoud Hosseini was one of these men. He was behind bars for four years. He lost his business, his marriage and 35 pounds. Four of his teeth rotted. He was never charged with a crime.
More than a year ago Masoud's case was referred to Northwest Immigrant Rights Project as a case of first impression related to the Convention Against Torture. On September 28, 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the Board of Immigration Appeals decision and awarded relief under the Convention Against Torture. After four years, he was released from detention.
Risk of Deportation Averted for Mother of Four
Angela, a 36 year old mother of four, came to the United States in 1990. Throughout her ten-year marriage to a U.S. citizen, she suffered both physical and mental abuse. When Angela became pregnant with their fourth child, her husband left her for another woman and refused to complete the immigrant visa petition he had filed for her. Angela feared separation from her children as well as deportation.
Angela approached NWIRP's office in Granger after she was placed in deportation removal proceedings. NWIRP's staff assisted Angela in documenting and filing an immigration petition for victims of domestic violence, which was granted eight months later. With the approved petition, directing attorney, Matt Adams, returned to immigration court with Angela and applied for an adjustment of immigration status so that Angela could become a lawful permanent resident. After a brief hearing on the merits, the immigration judge granted Angela legal status. Angela burst into tears of joy in the courtroom.
Salvadorian Granted U Visa for Victims of Crime
Juan Carlos Martinez Mendez came to the U.S. from El Salvador at the age of 14. His mother, step-father, sister and two brothers had all obtained legal status. Although he applied for legal status at the age of 15, he was placed in deportation proceedings almost immediately.
On June 29, 2003, Juan Carlos was shot in the head in a parking lot outside a friend's apartment. He lost his right eye, and his nose was almost completely destroyed. He also suffered major damage to the bone in his cheek and eye socket. Despite his injuries, Juan Carlos spent two years behind bars, with little hope of recovery and fear of being torn away from his family and the only home he remembered.
NWIRP attorneys worked with Juan Carlos throughout two years of detention and numerous setbacks during a time when he had little reason to be optimistic. He recently told us, "Mentally and emotionally NWIRP provided me a lot of strength to not give up."
Thankfully, on January 4, 2007, Juan Carlos was released from detention and granted relief under the U visa for victims of crime. Right after his release, he received the procedures to receive an artificial eye and repair his nasal passages.
Young Man from Malawi Becomes a Permanent Resident
At the age of nine, Otis left Malawi in southeastern Africa to live with his mother in Washington State. Shortly after he arrived, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and for the next six years of his young life, Otis assumed the role of her caretaker. When symptoms were too severe, Otis arranged for her to get to the hospital and stayed home alone for days at a time. Otis often went hungry, sometimes living on Kool-Aid and Top Ramen.
Otis' future looked bleak and uncertain as his mother's cancer progressed. Risking deportation as his 18th birthday approached when it's more difficult to obtain documentation, Otis was referred to NWIRP. A NWIRP staff attorney was able to expedite a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Visa application for Otis, and it was approved just two weeks before he turned 18.
Now a Permanent Resident, Otis is flourishing. He obtained a driver's license, a job, and even bought himself a car – none of which he would have been able to do without permanent status. Otis will graduate from high school soon, and looks forward to a future filled with opportunities thanks to the help he received from NWIRP.