Helina* didn’t need a recent photo to instantly recognize her daughter, now all grown up. As Ifrah* walked through the airport gate, Helina rushed to embrace her. Mother and daughter were together at last.
Helina had not seen her daughter, Ifrah,* in seven years.
In 2009, Helina left Ethiopia to work as a housekeeper abroad. She was desperate to find a way to support her daughter. Helina sent Ifrah to live with her grandparents and planned to send her earnings home to support her family. But Helina became a prisoner to her employers. They took her passport, locked her in the house, and denied her pay, rest, and food.
Helina’s employers tried to cut her ties to the outside world. She had to sneak away to call her daughter using borrowed calling cards from a fellow worker. Her ability to keep in touch with Ifrah abruptly ended when Helina’s employers took her on a trip the United States. She didn’t have access to her friend’s calling cards, and her employers monitored her every move.
With her daughter’s future in mind, Helina made a daring escape. One day, while her captors slept, she took back her passport and ran away. An Ethiopian taxi driver noticed Helina on the street and introduced her to an Ethiopian community in Houston. The community connected her to Tahirih Justice Center. Together with her attorneys, she won legal protection from her employers. Her visa simultaneously gave Helina the chance to reunite with her daughter in the United States.
It took Helina and Ifrah, now 14, many excruciating months to prepare Ifrah’s application to join her in the United States. During this time, Helina received work authorization and began to make a living. She made new friends and found a supportive community.
This April, the day she had been waiting for arrived. Helina and her attorneys went to greet Ifrah at the airport. Mother and daughter raced toward one another, finally bringing their years of separation to an end.