The Catholic University of America



Left-to-right: Laura Dorey, 3L; Professor Margaret Martin Barry; Ashleigh Elliot, 3L;
Professor Lisa Martin; Bethany Gordon, 3L; Nadjejda Nelson, 2010; Andrea Shuford, 2L.


Families and the Law Clinic Succeeds Again in
Protecting a Vulnerable Immigrant Client


In an attempt to escape the violence of the Sri Lankan civil war and live in a safer environment, “Ms. M” accompanied her husband to the United States several years ago. Soon after they arrived, he started verbally abusing her. Ms. M knew no one else in the United States and was entirely financially dependent on her husband, who held the family’s sole work permit.

The verbal abuse continued and gradually escalated into severe physical abuse. One particularly gruesome attack prompted a neighbor to call the police. Despite her fears that interacting with law enforcement could lead to deportation, Ms. M found the courage to help the police investigate and prosecute her husband’s crimes and pursue a civil protection order against her husband. 

The civil protection order did not fully deter Mr. M from continuing his abuse of Ms. M. Although he stayed away from her, she began to receive harassing telephone calls from her husband threatening to report her to immigration. Now a single mother of two children with complex medical needs, returning to Sri Lanka would have posed a significant hardship on Ms. M and her family. A community organization working with victims of domestic violence referred Ms. M to Columbus Community Legal Service’s Families and the Law Clinic (FALC) for assistance in applying for a U-visa.
A U-visa is an immigration remedy that grants temporary legal status and employment authorization to immigrant victims who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of certain crimes and assisted law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crimes against them. After three years, U-visa holders can apply to become legal permanent residents.
When Ms. M walked into the doors for her first client meeting with two student attorneys, she was physically and mentally drained. She simply asked, “Please help me and my kids.” Over the course of three semesters, FALC students took her plea to heart and worked tirelessly on her case. Students conducted multiple interviews of Ms. M and supporting witnesses, secured affidavits and tracked down numerous supporting documents, advocated for the requisite certification from law enforcement, and assembled and submitted the information with comprehensive legal arguments to the United States Customs and Immigration Service.
Fourteen months after walking into the Families and the Law Clinic, Ms. M received her U-visa, the fifth U visa FALC has secured since it expanded its services into this area.