Susheela Varky conducted a training class on Working with Immigrant Survivors this week. Here is the story of her work with a client.
Claudia and I sat down with Beatriz to review her Affidavit. Most of my immigrant clients who do not speak English speak Spanish. Because I do not speak Spanish myself, I am very lucky to be able to work with Claudia at the City of Richmond Office of Multicultural Affairs to be able to serve my Spanish-speaking domestic and/or sexual violence victim clients who are immigrants. Claudia is a native Spanish speaker, and she completes many of the intakes that help me determine whether victims are eligible for my free immigration legal services.
A client’s Affidavit is her story of abuse and of how she came to the United States. It is essential to a successful immigration visa application. In Beatriz’s case, as with many of my Spanish-speaking clients, she wrote her Affidavit on her own. Then, Claudia translated it from Spanish into English for me and for the visa application itself. All documents, even passports and birth certificates, in an immigrant visa application must be in English or accompanied by an English translation.
After I read the English translation of Beatriz’s Affidavit, we scheduled a three-way meeting. I think this is the best way to ask clarifying questions of the client; so, I may do my job—namely, to make the Affidavit flow and compel a government reviewer to grant the visa request, and yet truly depict my client’s story in her own words.
I was sitting at Claudia’s computer with her translation of Beatriz’s Affidavit on the screen. Claudia and Beatriz were across the desk from me. Claudia interpreted my questions to Beatriz. Beatriz answered them. I typed or asked more questions. As you can imagine, this process can take more than one sitting to complete. It is not easy to talk about a person you love hurting you physically, sexually or emotionally. It is not easy to recall these details and to answer your lawyer’s questions, even if you know in your heart that your lawyer is just trying to help you. It can be traumatizing.
Beatriz was telling us about the day she went to court to testify against her abuser. (Beatriz’s immigration visa was a U visa. This type of visa encourages victims of violent crimes to report said crimes and cooperate with law enforcement to investigate the crime.) She had to walk to court. On the walk back, she was in a kind of daze, thinking about how court went and feeling exhausted.
She then told us something she herself had forgotten. On that walk home, someone had offered her a ride home. Without thinking, she got in the car. The stranger then tried to sexually assault Beatriz, just as she was returning from testifying against another man who hurt her! She somehow got out of the moving car and ran to a store to safety.
Claudia and I ran to Beatriz. We all cried together and hugged each other. Beatriz had repressed that memory for years. The things our clients have to endure are unforgivable. But the fact that they feel safe enough to share these stories and even recall a repressed memory makes me think we are doing something right and just. This makes me feel very grateful to do the kind of work I do.
Susheela Varky is the Staff Attorney for Domestic and Sexual Violence for Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC), the statewide legal aid support nonprofit organization. VPLC is committed to leading and coordinating efforts to seek justice in civil legal matters for lower income Virginians. Beatriz’s U visa application was approved and she is currently in the process of adjusting to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.
For more training on topics like these, check our Training Institute’s schedule
 The name, “Beatriz,” and other names in this blog have been changed to protect VPLC’s clients’ identities.
 Between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2014, the Hispanic population in Virginia has grown 16.7%. http://www.coopercenter.org/demographics/age-sex-race-hispanic-town-estimates
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