Camila* is a fighter. She survived domestic violence for two decades at the hands of her ex-husband. Camila found Tahirih in 2013 after she reported her husband’s violence to the police. This was just the beginning of her journey to achieve safety and stability for her family, and many legal and social services team members at Tahirih have assisted Camila and her family over the years.
With Tahirih’s help, Camila filed for a U-visa in 2013. While living in the United States, Camila was granted sole custody of her U.S. citizen daughter, Sara*. However, Camila was forced to leave the United States when her abusive ex-husband and father of Sara kidnapped their daughter and brought her to their home country in South America.
Camila attempted to use the legal system, including the Department of State, to rescue her daughter. But after Sara was held by her kidnapper father for over a year, Camila decided to return to South America to rescue her daughter. Camila was also the sole caregiver of her then 12-year-old son, Samuel*, and she had no choice but to bring him with her. While in South America rescuing her daughter, both Camila and her son’s visas were approved.
After receiving approval for her visa, Camila faced a multitude of barriers returning to the United States, including financial barriers obtaining passports for her children. Her daughter’s father and kidnapper also attempted to extort Camila when she desperately needed his consent for Sara to travel to the U.S. Tahirih advocates worked with Camila for nearly 4 years after her U-visa was granted to assist her in returning to the U.S.
Camila’s fighting spirit prevailed, and she was able to convince her abusive ex-husband to sign the consent needed for Sara to travel. Camila and her children finally returned to the US in 2019 in a race against the clock before her U-visa was set to expire just a few months later. Tahirih staff met the family at the airport upon arrival. It was an emotional moment for the family, and especially for Camila.
Upon Camila and her family’s return to the US, Tahirih immediately filed for an extension of her visa for Camila and her son. However, shortly after filing the extension requests, Camila became severely ill. After consulting with multiple medical specialists, Camila learned that she needed urgent medical care. Unfortunately, that was dependent on her receiving her Employment Authorization card so that she could then obtain her Social Security card for medical coverage. Camila’s legal team quickly filed a request with USCIS to expedite her and her son’s application for Employment Authorization, but unfortunately, the expedite request was denied.
As Camila’s medical condition worsened and her work permit application continued to be delayed, Camila was unable to wait any longer to obtain the necessary medical care in the U.S. Camila made the extremely difficult decision to return to South America where she had the medical insurance she needed to proceed with a medically necessary surgery. She also made the very difficult decision to leave her son, Samuel who was 19 years old by that time and had gained more independence in the U.S.
Camila travelled back to South America in early 2020, where she faced many challenges in obtaining the surgery she desperately needed. As the COVID-19 pandemic started and the country declared a state of emergency, many surgeries were cancelled and there was a shortage of hospital beds. Camila’s surgery was finally scheduled for early 2021 after a long wait, and recovery was slow. In mid-March, Camila learned that the U-visa extension had finally been approved for her and her son. However, those extensions were only valid until September 2022. In spring of 2021, Camila began communicating with the U.S. consulate in her country to try and get a visa interview so she could return to the U.S. to be reunited with her son. The pandemic was still causing a delay in services, and Camila was worried that there would be a delay in her consular process. Luckily, she was able to get an interview right away.
Camila was finally able to return to the U.S. with Sara and reunite with her son in the fall of 2021. Camila is now on her way to qualifying for Lawful Permanent Residence. Camila’s son, Samuel, has already applied for his Lawful Permanent Residence.
When she lived in South America, Camila’s job was to provide advocacy and supportive services to widowers who needed assistance navigating systems. She is grateful that organizations like Tahirih exist to help immigrants navigate the complex US legal system. When Camila shared her story, she said “I hope my story is helpful to someone else…and can inspire many women to be stronger. We need to help young women identify toxic relationships, so that there are fewer Camilas that go through such difficult things, let alone have our children suffer.”