The Catholic University of America

 

 

 

They made a difference: Back row- Bethany Gordon, 2011; Britney Bowater, 2009; Bora Seo, 2010; Andrea Paraud, 2010. Front row- Flor Salvador, 2009; Professor Lisa Martin, Nadjejda Nelson, 2010.

 

Clinic Students Celebrate Government's U-Turn on Immigrant's Status

Sylvia Garcia (not her real name) could have been back in her native Honduras this very day, with no hopeful prospects in sight, for the simple reason of having reported a crime. Instead, she has been granted permission to stay in the United States for at least three more years, with a good chance at that point of receiving her green card and permanent resident status.

Garcia can attribute her good fortune to nine current and former CUA law students who worked tirelessly through Columbus Community Legal Services, the law school's legal clinic, to help her avoid deportation and build a case for staying in the states.

Garcia's story is common enough, most of it anyway. She entered the U.S. illegally seeking work and landed in Washington, D.C. Lacking a reliable roof over her head, she agreed to move in with a fellow immigrant, Alvaro Romero (not his real name.) It quickly became clear this was more than just a roommate arrangement from his point of view. Romero told Garcia he was in love with her and became violently possessive and jealous. He monitored her phone calls, prevented her from leaving the house and accused her of infidelity. His behavior escalated to punching, strangling and kicking.

One evening proved to be the final straw. When Romero beat Garcia nearly to unconsciousness and threatened to kill her in front of several of his friends, she decided to get help. She called a domestic violence hotline, and then the police. She assisted in their investigation of Romero and was prepared to testify against him in court. Romero pled guilty to the charges against him.

As Garcia was well aware, illegal immigrants who draw attention to themselves by cooperating with law enforcement are sometimes deported. She was referred to Catholic University's legal clinic for assistance with seeking a U visa, a special category for undocumented crime victims who are helpful in investigations or prosecutions and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of crime. After three years, visa holders can apply to become legal permanent residents.

U visas can be tricky to obtain, however. Fortunately for Garcia, she knocked on the right door. Catholic University's Families and the Law Clinic (one of three clinics housed within Columbus Community Legal Services) was the first law school clinic in the country to focus on providing services to victims of domestic violence. FALC has long represented domestic violence victims in emergency civil protection order and long-term family law cases, but only recently has begun to offer clients assistance with obtaining domestic violence-related immigration remedies, including Violence Against Women Act self-petitions, battered spouse waivers, and U visas. Garcia's was FALC's first U visa case.

"Our students interviewed Ms. Garcia; gathered evidence of Mr. Romero's abuse and affidavits from witnesses, friends, and Ms. Garcia's counselor; educated the prosecutor's office about U visas and secured the requisite certification of Ms. Garcia's helpfulness to law enforcement," said Professor Lisa Martin, who directed the students' effort.

The students then packaged the information along with detailed legal arguments about why Garcia was entitled to a U visa, and sent the materials to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In July, they heard what they were hoping for: the U visa application was approved.

The students are not resting on their victory, however. "Our students will continue to work with Ms. Garcia to help her to bring her children to live with her to obtain a better life in the U.S.," said Martin.