At HRI we are celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting our courageous clients who inspire us daily with their strength, resilience, and perseverance.
These clients are survivors of gender-based persecution: they have escaped female genital mutilation, honor killings, abduction and rape by gangs, and violence at the hands of intimate partners. These women and girls are forced to flee their home countries, which offer impunity to perpetrators of gender-based violence, and arrive in the United States seeking refuge. The current administration is working its hardest to make asylum out of reach for women like them. But at HRI, we are not backing down. We are not giving up in the fight to win asylum for our deserving clients.
We asked three of our clients* two questions to share with you all on this International Women’s Day. These three clients arrived in the U.S. from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America, and are each survivors of gender-based persecution. We hope their answers will inspire you as much as they’ve inspired us. *Names changed for anonymity.
- What would winning asylum mean to you and your family?
ESTHER: Winning the asylum case means having peace of mind and being sure that my family and I will be free from persecution because we do not want to be a part of a culture that takes one’s individuality away, fear of torture and all forms of threat. I will be sure that no one will force, threaten me or my daughters to involuntary female circumcision or even persecute us for refusing to be genitally mutilated. That my husband and I would have a new lease to life and bringing up our children in an environment that allows them to thrive and accept their strengths and individuality- and not live based on what one culture or what an extended family thinks their life should be.
MARIA: It is hope of life! For me to feel protected, safe that I do not need to go back to my country, that my aggressor will not be able to hurt me. He will not be able to hit me, offend me, yell at me or even kill me given that, one of those many times that he hit me I felt like he was about to kill me. Being in this country where laws do apply and if someone tries to hurt me, he will be faced with the law, makes me feel emotionally stable. Something that I couldn’t obtain in my country, given that I looked for help from the state through the police and other institutions, but they did not give it any importance, which is what that guy, violent and criminal deserved. My country does not guarantee legal security or that my life will be safe.
To feel like I have the opportunity to live in peace
That I can work legally to help my kids get on in life.
That I can validate my career as an attorney and continue to study, so I can obtain a better job and give my kids a better life.
SAHAR: Winning asylum here in the U.S. means saving our lives, mine and my two daughters. It means sparing our lives from being killed or persecuted. See, I come from the Middle East. I was born to a Muslim family. I never found freedom or safety to question my faith, but when I moved here with my husband a few years ago, I found the freedom to seek god and know how truly is Jesus. It didn’t take much time before I completely surrendered my heart to Jesus and became a Christian believer and raised both of my kids in the church. But, unfortunately in my home country I’m considered an ex-Muslim and the penalty for this is death, horrible death for me and my girls. Threats come from all directs – my family, community, and the government.
So asylum for us is literally LIFE.
- What do you want U.S. citizens to understand about the importance of granting asylum to those who need it?
ESTHER: The United States of America and its people remain the beacon of hope for the rest of the world, thereby setting the standard by which the whole of humanity is adjudged. Having to leave your home country, moving away from all the things you hold dear in this world (family, friends, career and most especially – memories) is a tough one so granting asylum will give a sense of belonging and ease thereby making it a little less difficult to settle down and be well assimilated into the system.
Granting asylum to those who need it means allowing them to live a better life, void of persecution or the fear, threat or terrors of persecution. It means helping an asylum seeker feel safe, changing their narratives from victims to victors- I mean helping them thrive without any form of inhibitions.
MARIA: That we are human beings and we’re only looking for an opportunity to safeguard our lives and the lives of our family. That I am a professional, and I saw myself obligated to leave my country, my amenities, because I wasn’t heard and they did not face the law! I came to this country running from my aggressor.
That I am looking to live in this country legally,
work, study, respecting the laws of this nation.
This is why asylum is important for me since I am fearing for my life and my kid’s life!
I need asylum to work and I am not looking to be a burden for the state. I want to contribute with my taxes and knowledge, legally!
SAHAR: I have found it really hard for U.S. citizens to fathom the great danger women in the Middle East and third world countries face. I believe because of the freedom they live in they can’t imagine how common honor killings and government persecution against women are. Women on the other side of the world don’t have rights, and even if they do, society doesn’t allow them to use it. Most U.S. citizens need to open their eyes and see how women are treated in other parts of the world. They need to know how important asylum is for them and their daughters. It’s a life saver!
Thank you to our generous partners at AT&T and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP who co-sponsor an Equal Justice Works Fellowship at HRI focused on winning asylum for survivors of gender-based persecution. Their partnership allows us to respond to the urgent need to expand representation of women and girls in their asylum claims and to push asylum law to recognize gender-based persecution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Heger joined HRI as in the fall of 2019 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. During her two year fellowship, Emily will represent survivors of gender-based violence seeking asylum in the United States while broadening the precedent of our nation’s asylum law as well as, educating the immigrant and legal communities and mobilizing a nationwide collective of pro bono attorneys. Emily’s fellowship is sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and AT&T.
ABOUT HRI: For 20 years, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas has provided life-changing legal and social services to immigrant survivors of violence. We only serve those living at or below 150% of the federal poverty line, and we never charge for any of our services. In honor of International Women’s Day, please join us in spreading the word and giving generously to support HRI’s work to support women escaping gender-based violence and abuse. Want to learn more? https://hipgive.org/project/freedom-from-violence/?fbclid=IwAR2uPiRHIf3v0crVFkA_7nO9UUS8BP-9VbZugZXFjBKrtISAcImS7faQNpc