I married my sweetheart. We met when we were both 14 years old, just schoolchildren. He left for the United States a few years after we met. We wrote love letters. He sent me gifts like lotion, make-up, and clothes. I felt loved.
I graduated high school and we married. We had dated for five years. When he proposed, he traveled to El Salvador to be with me. He proposed to my parents first, according to tradition. Then he asked me to spend my life with him. I agreed. On a hot summer day in El Salvador, we celebrated our marriage.
For the next six years, Eduardo* lived and worked in the United States while I stayed at home in El Salvador. He told me that women in America “got ruined.” I visited him at least once a year and had three children during this period—a daughter and two little boys. We all lived at my mother’s home.
Eduardo and I talked of living together in El Salvador. He told me he intended to come back, and I was happy to envision growing old together in the country. But then I learned that Eduardo had destroyed this dream by getting into enormous debt in the United States. He summoned me to join him there to help work it off. Once I came, I realized he never intended to return home.
By the time I recognized how much trouble Eduardo faced, he was already controlling me emotionally and physically. He monitored everything I did. He didn’t want people to see me in public. He was never this way before. Things got progressively worse. Respect between us started to disappear, and once it was gone, there was no longer a single thread of the relationship I thought we had.
The situation worsened when Eduardo began coming home drunk. I demanded to know where he had been, but he just raised his voice to scream insults in my face. We fought every night. He pushed me, threw me on the bed, threatened me, and strangled me. Throughout these assaults, he laced his violence with threats to call immigration to have me deported while the children remained in the United States with him.
One night Eduardo grabbed my hair and then pulled me to him to get a grip on my neck. He did this in front of his mother, who told me not to disrespect him as I struggled to escape his grip. I called the police, but my husband told me the police would arrest me. I told the operator I had the wrong number and hung up.
A few days later, I moved to a friend’s house and got a job cleaning houses. I struggled to pay all the bills for my three kids. Eduardo called to encourage me to come back home. I refused his pleas. After a few rejections, Eduardo began using threats by talking about the place where I worked and describing how few police monitored the neighborhood. I told the company I could no longer work nights. I struggled to move forward and keep my children safe and healthy.
Thankfully, I found the Tahirih Justice Center and they helped me get the legal status I was entitled to, separate from my abusive husband. Tahirih partnered with a wonderful pro bono attorney named Andrew McCormack from the law firm WilmerHale in Washington, DC who helped me prepare my application under the Violence Against Women Act. After some time, my petition was approved. I am so grateful that I am able to remain in the United States and care for my children.
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*Names have been changed to protect privacy. The photograph included here is not of Isabel. Photo by Sergio Pessolano.