Luisa is a 36-year-old, married, Latino female who immigrated to the United States from Colombia. She speaks only Spanish, so a translator must be used for communication. She came to the United States on a visa, but remained beyond the allotted time. While in the United States, she met and married Hugo, who was in the country with documentation. Once Luisa married Hugo, she became pregnant with a daughter, who is now 3 years old.
Luisa has a 10-year-old son named Juan in Colombia. Luisa has always had the desire to reunite with Juan and bring him to the United States to live with her. After her marriage and status change, she began the process of sponsoring Juan. She has been advised that in order for sponsorship to be achieved, she cannot receive welfare benefits because she needs to prove that she can support herself and her child.
Luisa came to the local welfare agency after she and her daughter entered the domestic violence shelter. She reported that Hugo had a history of violence, which was exacerbated when he drank alcohol. Hugo had been drinking more frequently, and the episodes of violence had increased in severity. The domestic violence program requires all residents to apply for any available benefits in order to remain enrolled in their services.
In one particular episode, Hugo almost fractured her orbital bones. She had extensive facial bruising and blood pooled in one eye. Luisa is quite fearful of Hugo. She is also financially dependent on him. She is reluctant to apply for benefits because she fears that this will compromise her ability to sponsor her son in Colombia. She is tearful and tells me that she cannot sacrifice her son’s opportunity to come to the United States.
Luisa is socially isolated because she has no family in the United States, and Hugo has restricted her ability to socialize and establish friendships. However, she is a practicing Catholic and does belong to a church that offers bilingual services.
Luisa began to discuss returning to Hugo because she felt that this was her only viable option. I advised her that under the new federal changes in immigration laws she might be allowed to apply for benefits and still sponsor her son because she is experiencing domestic violence. I explained that we would need to speak to an immigration lawyer to verify this, but it could possibly be an alternative to returning to Hugo.
Luisa reported that she had given money to lawyers in the past who had been unhelpful. She was suspicious of the law’s ability to protect her. Hugo had also threatened to report her to the authorities, stating that he would tell them she only married him to remain in the country. Although this is not true, she feared that he would do this, and she would never see her daughter again.
I offered to speak with someone at the domestic violence program and advocate that they allow her some time to research her options. I told Luisa that these were difficult decisions to make and that she would be supported in her decision. I told her that she knew what was best for her family. I offered to research the options that she might have under this new federal program. I also asked for permission to contact the priest at her church so that she might be able to review her situation with a religious leader in the community. Luisa agreed.
Two weeks later, Luisa applied for services on behalf of her daughter and herself. She has decided not to return to Hugo.