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On Thursday, March 28, 2019, Tahirih held the San Francisco Bay Area’s 2nd Annual Benefit, welcoming 150 donors, volunteers, clients, and supporters for an evening of celebration and conversation. Actor and musician, Penn Badgley, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies and addressed the audience humbly, with profound commitment. Commitment to stand alongside women in the fight for equality. Commitment to play a small role in the long journey ahead. Commitment to continue advocating for women like Vilma, a detained Tahirih client who was separated from her daughter for 8 months, and who Penn had the opportunity to visit while she waited in detention.

Toward the end of 2018, I teamed up with the Tahirih Atlanta’s Executive Director, Shana Tabak, in an effort to free Vilma Carrillo, a Tahirih client being held in an immigration detention center in Georgia – 2,000 miles away from her then 11-year old daughter, Yeisvi, from whom she was separated seven months prior.

Penn went on to share details of his visit, including the aching feeling of helplessness as he spoke with Vilma through a Plexiglass window, and how it was quickly shattered by her incredible strength and faith.

Without her daughter by her side, or any idea whether they would be reunited, Vilma never gave up hope. She believed her Tahirih attorneys were her angels and she prayed for a brighter future with her family together again.

After that meeting, Penn told the crowd, he then used the only thing he had – his social media following – to get Vilma’s story, and thousands of others like it, into the public eye.

I wanted my followers to ask themselves, ‘why was Vilma being held?’ ‘what was her ‘crime’?’ Fleeing to the United States to seek asylum after enduring years of horrendous domestic violence by her daughter’s father? That’s not a crime. Seeking asylum is not a crime.

Luckily, Vilma’s story has a happy ending.  On January 11, eight months after being detained and separated from her daughter, she was released, and the two were reunified.

When I heard the news, my heart burst with happiness for her, but then I quickly remembered the countless others still incarcerated in the system she had been freed from. Others who continue to be separated from their children or are trying to come to our country for safety.

Penn then posed to the audience the most simple and yet complex question: why are we here?

Personally. Professionally. As an advocate. As a volunteer. As a survivor. Why am I here tonight? Because, like you, I care deeply about ending violence against women and ensuring justice for those who bless our country with their courage.

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