The Waiting Game

Eligible for both DACA and a U Visa, a young woman waits for status while caring for her younger siblings after the death of her mother. Her JFON attorney waits with her.

 Part 1: Nadia’s story, in her own words:

I learned about Justice for Our Neighbors Dallas-Fort Worth through my mom’s case worker and had an interview with the attorney at the Fort Worth office. I had visited other non-profits, but I decided to go with JFON.

At this time, I had just turned 19 and had recently lost my mother to cancer. I was left in charge of my two younger siblings and I wanted to know if there was any way that I could get some type of status, since I was here without documentation.

During the consultation with Ana Arellanos-Baeza, my new JFON attorney, we went through all the possible avenues of helping me get some type of status. We figured out that I may qualify for a U visa, since I had been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of my father. My whole family had been terrorized by him, and it wasn’t until my mom was on palliative care that we reached out to the police. We were so afraid of reporting the abuse because my mom didn’t want to take a chance that she would be deported and separated from her children.

We contacted the police and reported the domestic violence. I had taken video and shared it with the police. They were able to arrest and charge him. Unfortunately, my mother passed away not long after.

With the help of Ana, I was able to obtain a certificate from the police department, stating the ways I had been helpful and specifying the crime I was a victim of. We filled out the forms, gathered the money for the fees, and submitted my application.

U visa certificates have a 6 month period of validity. The immigration officer held onto my case for over a month and rejected it.

Ana reviewed the application and concluded that the rejection was in error. I also reviewed it and agreed. We now had an issue, because police departments only issue one certificate for victim. Once that certificate is expired, that’s it.

Ana reached out to the district attorney’s office and explained the situation. I gave her permission to share my case information with the DA so that they could see the erroneous rejection of my case. The DA’s office agreed and issued a new certificate so that I could refile my case.

Photo credit: Abe Camacho

At this time, we are waiting on a response from immigration. I know that my case may take up to 8 years to be processed, and that during this time I do not have any form of legal protection.

However, having a case in process is the best thing I can do during this time.

In the meantime, I am prepping the evidence needed for submitting a DACA application. At the time DACA was available, I was not able to apply because we were focusing on my mother.

Ana and I hope that DACA will be opened up again soon, and that I will be able to re-submit my application.


Part 2: Nadia’s attorney 

Nadia is now 21 years old. Her father has been deported and can no longer hurt her or her younger brother and sister, now 15 and 12 years old, respectively. Nadia’s still responsible for both of them and worries for their future.  She receives counseling to help her deal with her trauma from her abusive father and the grief from her mother’s painful death.

Talking about it—writing about it—has helped, says Ana, her attorney for the past two years.

“Surprisingly, Nadia is pretty funny,” adds Ana, “She’s got a dark sense of humor. It catches you off guard a bit before you realize that’s the way she deals with things.”

Ana also has a pretty good sense of humor, but she is unable to find anything remotely amusing about the way Nadia’s case was handled by the USCIS.

The department has recently issued new rules regarding applications—now every box has to be filled out, even if it’s only with a “N/A” (not applicable). Ana and Nadia filed her application before these new rules were in place.

“The big issue here is that USCIS screwed up,” says Ana, with frustration. “They rejected her application because there was no apartment number—and she lives in a house. They also rejected it because there was no middle name listed—when Nadia has no middle name.”

USCIS officials held on to the application for more than month until the certificate had expired. Whether this delay was the result of incompetence or malice, the result was equally terrible. The certificate could no longer be used to further Nadia’s case.

Ana had to rewrite the brief and plead with the district attorney to get permission to refile. That was difficult and time-consuming. But it was, at least, possible for an experienced attorney like Ana. As strong and resilient as Nadia is, could she have navigated through this bewildering legal morass without Ana by her side?

As of this moment, Nadia has the certificate that proves she cooperated with the police. However, until her U visa case is approved—in another six to eight years—she has no status and no work authorization. Nadia could be deported at any time.  And what would then happen to her U.S.-born brother and sister?

“Nadia knows to keep a copy of her U visa filing with her at all times,” says Ana. “Some ICE officers would respect that.” She shakes her head. “But others wouldn’t.”

“It’s gotten really, really ugly,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Nadia is saving to go to college. If she can get DACA—assuming the program reopens—then she would like to pursue studies in the field of medicine. That’s her dream: to one day be able to help people like her own mother.

And Ana—and everyone at JFON DFW—is determined to help Nadia realize that dream.


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