Safe at Last: Yureli and Her Daughters Win Asylum
By Yvonne Winer - Immigration Specialist, HIAS
Jul 06, 2017
There are some women who are prisoners in their own home. But Yureli Ramirez* defied all odds when she escaped domestic and gang-related violence in her native Guatemala, which has one of the highest female murder rates in the world.
“When I was just nine or ten, I took care of my siblings. I never really had the chance to study,” said Yureli, who is the eldest of seven children.
Her life in rural Guatemala was far from idyllic. At fourteen, she was kidnapped by a man who forced her to live with him for more than a year. She bore his child.
“I do think that if that man had never done that to me, I would have become a different person,” Yureli reflects. The man was eventually arrested for murder, which shocked her.
Following his arrest, Yureli was forced into a series of abusive relationships with men like Jose*, a store owner who said he could find her employment. Jose threatened Yureli that if she did not become involved with him, he would kill her daughter’s father. So she went to live with him.
“Jose would say that he loved me, but it was bitter. I never found happiness with him, only marks on my body and my soul,” Yureli said. “Even at three months pregnant, he beat me and kicked me so badly that I was unable to get out of bed for two days.”
One day, she tried to escape. “He was so angry with me that he tried to choke me,” Yureli recalled. “I went to put in a police report, but the law does not protect you there. They said they would only help if I had a judge’s order.”
Meanwhile, Jose was searching for her. He was asking neighbors about her whereabouts and threatening them.
“I did not know where to go or what to do. I did not have even a cent, or a change of clothes. He found me and took me back to the house. He asked me to forgive him. But he also knew that I did not have enough money or any way to care for myself and my daughter,” Yureli said
“After that, I thought it would be better. But it was worse.”
Jose wanted to immigrate to the U.S. to avoid the infamous 18th Street gang. They were extorting him and threatened to kill him or Yureli and her children if they stopped paying their escalating demands.
The journey to the United States was long and difficult. Along the way, they were kidnapped and held hostage for several days in Mexico. When they finally reached the U.S. in June of 2015, they were apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol almost immediately. CBP detained the whole family, even Yureli’s two young daughters.
“When immigration caught us, we had to sleep on the floor. My little sister got very sick from this,” Monica*, Yureli’s nine-year-old daughter, remembered.
Yureli’s application for asylum was one of the first cases accepted by the HIAS Silver Spring office, which opened in December 2015. HIAS General Counsel Liz Sweet helped Yureli seek legal protection for herself and her daughters, guiding Yureli through the whole process and representing them in immigration court.
Happily, Yureli and her daughters won asylum on March 13, 2017.
“I feel very happy since that day,” Yureli said. “I’m thankful to Liz and to the judge.”
"The judge recognized that Yureli and her daughters had a strong case for asylum under our law,” said HIAS' Liz Sweet. “The decision brought a long process to the end for this family, allowing them to be able to recover from the abuse and live in safety."
Here in the United States, Yureli and her children were finally able to escape from Jose.
“I felt free. I had happiness in my heart, and relief,” Yureli said. “My advice is for women not to keep suffering. Don’t endure the abuse.”
Since being granted asylum, she has the security of full legal status here. She can work, and her daughters can go to school. And they no longer have to fear that Jose or the 18th street gang will come after them.
“I love school,” added nine-year-old Monica. “I want to work and be successful. And be a doctor!”
“I felt a lot of happiness in my heart knowing I would no longer be a woman that is battered. I’m so happy I don’t have to go back to Guatemala,” Yureli said.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.
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