When you work providing lower-cost legal services to immigrants, including refugees and asylees, you get to meet resilient, fascinating people who carry with them some of the most profound stories you’ll ever hear.
Most of their narratives feature hardship in a leading role, and yet most also build on surprising bursts of joy and kindness.
As director of Immigration Legal Services at Catholic Charities of Louisville, I work with a team of five other professionals, providing lower-cost and sometimes no-cost legal services to immigrants seeking everything from work authorization to family reunification and from asylum to their path for legal citizenship. I’d like to share some of their stories with you.
Sophia came to the United States from Honduras alone at age 12 to escape an unsafe environment and gangs that had begun to harass her on the way to school. She was reunited with her mother shortly after her arrival in March 2016.
We began the long journey of applying for special immigrant juvenile status and representing her in removal proceedings. Now her deportation case has been closed, her green card application was finally approved in July and she can finish high school knowing that her status in the U.S. is secure. She also has the option to further her education here if she chooses.
Joseph was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who, with his family, had lived for many years in a refugee camp in Burundi. He, his wife, and nine children arrived in Louisville in May 2015, but his parents, who simply were not processed as quickly, remained in the camp.
In September 2015, we filed an application requesting for his parents to be processed to join the family. These applications almost always move slowly, but when COVID-19 hit, the process came to a full stop. Five years later, though, Joseph’s family finally reunited.
A little over six years ago, we began working with a client from Mexico who now lives in Nelson County. As a survivor of extreme domestic violence who participated in the investigation of the crimes committed against her, she received the certification from law enforcement necessary to pursue a U visa. (A U visa is for victims of certain crimes who can be helpful to law enforcement and government in investigating and prosecuting criminal activity.)
We assisted her with the visa application and she finally received approval last summer. Now she has legal status in the U.S. and will be eligible to apply for permanent residence three years from now.
In 2018, we filed asylum applications for a brother and sister based on domestic violence by their father. Three-plus years later, those applications were approved. Now, these young people are able to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation or repercussions.
We worked with a family for six years to help the wife secure permanent lawful residence. It was a long process, but last May she had her final interview with the U.S. Consulate and obtained her permanent residency. Now she, her U.S.-born husband and their U.S.-citizen daughter can enjoy life together.
You may have noticed in all of these stories the length of time it takes to move a case from start to finish. It is common for our cases to take years to resolve.
Our program charges flat fees for services, but even those who contribute nothing receive our help thanks to grants and donations aimed at covering those costs. We’re proud of what we do and humbled by the lives of our clients.
Rebecca Sim is the program director of Immigration Legal Services with Catholic Charities of Louisville.