My name is Maria.
I have lived in the United States for almost thirty years. After arriving, I started and ran my own business, owned a home, raised a beautiful family, and loved my community.
Then, in 2017, I went to renew my driver’s license. The DMV employee threatened to call the police because I didn’t have a social security number. It wasn’t long until Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was called and before I knew it, they deported me.
I was sent to Mexico – to the home where my mother had abused me throughout my childhood; where I had studied law and art until I was forced to escape my mother’s house; where I had returned, briefly, after leaving an abusive ex-husband.
Five days after I was deported to Mexico, I received a text from my violent ex-husband. He knew where I was. He was coming to find me.
I had no choice but to flee to the U.S. once again. This time, when I arrived, I was immediately placed in detention and removal proceedings.
Although I eventually won asylum, the Department of Homeland Security appealed my case. It was then that I was introduced to Tahirih’s legal team so they can fight my asylum battle.
Fifteen months after arriving at the border, I was released from detention and met with my sponsor who welcomed me to California. Tahirih was there and ready to connect me with the resources I needed to get back on my feet.
Even after all this, my journey wasn’t over. I wanted to go home to Houston where I had a job lined up and could be with my family, but I needed my ankle monitor removed in order to do so.
I knew that that could only happen at an ICE office, but they had refused once already. This time, I brought my Tahirih attorney, Rachel. She explained to the ICE agents that I had relief under the Convention Against Torture. They told us to wait. So, we waited. And waited.
While we sat, I showed Rachel pictures of my children and grandchildren, all U.S. citizens. I wanted nothing more than to be with them again.
Finally, I was handed my paperwork. I signed. My ankle monitor was cut.
I turned to Rachel and told her, “I’m free.”
We walked out of the building. It was chilly. I reminded myself I was on my way to Houston. To warmth, to family, to a new job, to my home.
In April of 2022, I was finally granted asylum by the Board of Immigration Appeals. In a twist, the DHS attorney who appealed my original grant of asylum in San Francisco Immigration Court is now an immigration judge, and just last week she cited my case’s Ninth Circuit opinion to grant asylum to a similarly situated survivor.
I always had faith that, in facing down the barriers in my own path, I might clear the way for others who followed.