by: Tri-Valley Haven
July 22, 2016
“Sanyah” and her two sons arrived in the US from their native Nepal about three months ago. Her husband, who had always been abusive, quickly learned about California domestic violence laws when he was arrested for his violence against her and the children, and “Sanyah” was granted an Emergency Protective Order. She was referred to Narika, an agency that provides counseling and advocacy for South Asian DV survivors. In turn, Narika referred her to Tri-Valley Haven for shelter.
“Sanyah” spoke only a few words of English, so Tri-Valley Haven used the telephone language line to conduct a phone screening for safety and tell “Sanyah” about our program in her own Nepali language. “Sanyah” can also communicate in Hindi, though it is not her first language, and our Linkages Case Manager Nina speaks Hindi, so we were able to connect “Sanyah” with someone with whom she could converse in a familiar language. “Sanyah’s” oldest son speaks English, but he has assumed a protective role towards his mother, and we never ask him to translate except for very mundane things such as asking about the family’s ethnic food needs.
When the family arrived at the Tri-Valley Haven’s shelter after intake, our staff offered them a selection of emergency food, so they could eat before settling in and visiting our agency’s food pantry for more provisions. In our shelter kitchen, “Sanyah” was confused. She had always lived in a small, isolated village, and had never seen kitchen appliances such as a microwave or dishwasher which we take for granted, and our staff showed her how to prepare the food.
“Sanyah” was also bewildered by a stack of papers which she handed to Nina. Sorting through them, Nina found the EPO paperwork, and confirmation that “Sanyah’s” abuser was in jail. She found an I 94 form for one child, which authorized him to remain in the US, but “Sanyah’s” form was missing. Nina arranged a meeting with a lawyer at the Family Violence Law Center for advice, and began researching how she could assist “Sanyah” in her quest to remain in this country. Not knowing exactly where to start, Nina entered “Sanyah’s” passport number into the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website, and learned that “Sanyah” has asylee status. Nina scheduled an appointment with USCIS.
At this point, “Sanyah” disclosed that she has a cousin living in the east coast with whom she wanted to live. She gave Nina a release to talk to her cousin, who is very knowledgeable about the immigration process. The cousin told Nina where to look on “Sanyah’s” passport for the stamp with her alien number and work authorization. After a little more research, Nina learned that this meant “Sanyah” was approved to get a Social Security number so she could work or apply for benefits. This took two trips to two Social Security offices because, in spite of a letter explaining the situation, the worker at the first office did not recognize the authorization, and the staff person who accompanied “Sanyah” on that trip was not familiar with the passport. When Nina took “Sanyah” to another Social Security office, the process went smoothly, and “Sanyah” received an interview on the spot, with Nina translating, and was given a Social Security number.
In the meantime, our Legal Services Advocate worked with “Sanyah” to help her obtain a 5-year restraining order and full custody of both children. Nina is now researching whether “Sanyah’s” custody order authorizes her to move out of state with her children. Many questions remain, which “Sanyah” will need to work out with an immigration attorney, such as, how would a divorce affect her own immigration status? Is a U Visa appropriate?
This case has touched Tri-Valley Haven staff in many ways. We are impressed with “Sanyah’s” strength and fortitude as she adapts to her new country and lovingly parents her sons while navigating through multiple bureaucratic systems and healing from the emotional and physical abuse that they all endured. This case has also been a very educational experience for our staff, who learned much about the immigration process, and who reached out to help this new arrival from such a remote environment that none of us have ever experienced.