To the Lighthouse/ Al Faro

A survivor becomes a light of hope for victims of violence and abuse

Pablo was 7 years old when he left Mexico for the United States. His parents were relieved to see him go. They were poor and struggling to feed their family. Everyone respected the priest and thought it a wonderful thing when he offered to take care of their son.

Pablo was a teenager the first time he mustered the courage to run away. His heart thumping, he stood in a dingy gas station and called the priest to tell him where he had left the keys to the car.

I am free, I am free, I am free.

“If you don’t come back within 30 minutes,” answered the priest calmly.  “I will make a phone call to the police. I will tell them you stole money from the church. And they will believe me, not you.”

So Pablo went back.


“To me, abuse was normal,” reflects Pablo on his marriage to a naturalized U.S. citizen in Northern Virginia. “I didn’t know any other way.”

Pablo was drawn to this woman because she was so strong and confident. Perhaps she, in turn, was drawn to his slight build and his obvious fragility. Because the woman he married was manipulative, controlling, and dangerously violent.

And when he tried to report her abuse to the police, he was rebuffed, mocked, and told he needed to work it out himself.

“The police will never believe you,” his wife said. “I’m a woman, I’m a citizen, and they will protect me, not you. Try to call the police, and I will call immigration.”

Los papeles son poderosos,” explains Pablo. “And when you have no papers, you have no power.”

Then came the day his wife tried to run him down in a car and nearly succeeded. She had hurt him before, but this time there were witnesses and a police record. This time, he would be believed.

The soon-to-be ex-wife served time in prison, and Pablo received a protective order to keep him safe.

I am free, I am free, I am free.

June 2021: Pablo, pictured center top, joined Just Neighbors staff members for a meeting with Traci Hong, immigration counsel for Senator Tim Kaine, to discuss the U.S. Citizenship Act. He spoke about his own experience and his belief that immigrant victims who have legal status are much more likely to report crimes. “This will help the police,” he said, “and help make our communities safer and better places to live.”


“I have heard many stories about abuse,” says Beth Hamilton, volunteer attorney at Just Neighbors—our JFON site serving Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. “But Pablo…” She shakes her head in wonder. “How can one person suffer so much and still be the kindest and gentlest soul?

“He is,” she adds, “a testament to the human spirit.”

Pablo worked with his team—Beth, his therapist, and Just Neighbors staff attorney Sarah Milad—to decide his best way forward. He applied for a U Visa (for victims of crimes). He also applied for deferred action under VAWA (the Violence against Women Act), giving him protection from deportation and the ability to work legally.

With so much police documentation, Pablo and Beth were able to present a very strong case. It will take some years, but Pablo will eventually be eligible for a green card, putting him on the path to U.S. citizenship.

In our society, there is a stigma against men—or individuals who identify as men—when they report being victimized by women—or those who identify as women. This is especially true when people are surrounded by a culture where “manliness” or “machismo” is valued, and even revered. The stereotype is, of course, that men have more power, that they are physically stronger, and are more likely to have practiced fighting during their lives. So how can they “allow” themselves to be victimized?

And yet it does happen. And there should never be any shame in asking for help.

“Even though the law has the word “women” in the title,” says Beth pointedly, “VAWA benefits all gender identities. As well it should.”


“Experiences can make you weak, or they can make you strong,” says Pablo. “Some get strong so they can help others. I believe I suffered through all this so I can help other people.”

Pablo would like one day to become a mental health counselor and help both victims of abuse and their abusers. In the meantime, he is a counselor in his church and is frequently invited to speak in Northern Virginia and elsewhere. In August, he will be speaking at a church in Kansas City, Missouri, and then on to the Seattle area to counsel immigrant farmworkers.

“There is so much ignorance of the law,” he explains. “Ninety-five percent of the people who want help don’t know where to begin. Or they think, like I did, that the abuse is normal and something they have to live with.

“When I tell my story, many people will cry and say ‘what happened to me isn’t half of what happened to you.’ Or they will cry and ask, ‘can you get me out of this hole?’”

“I tell them it’s going to take a long time,” he says softly, “but that they must never go back.”



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