My baby was four months old, and my son was four years old. My son was diagnosed with dyslexia, autism and ADHD. My husband did not want to accept that our son was ill. This caused many of our fights and much of my beatings.
The manager of the apartment complex where I lived came by to see me and found me all beat up and called the police for me. Through her I found that a place existed where I could get help. A place where I felt safe. I was so afraid and embarrassed and did not know what the future was going to look like.
The police brought Maria and her children to Casa Misericordia, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Laredo, Texas. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the women at Casa are undocumented, and their immigration issues often compound their domestic situations, says Sister Rosemary Welsh, executive director of Casa.
“Sometimes the abuser is a U.S. permanent resident or a citizen, and they hold that over their victim, threatening to call immigration and take away her children. Sometimes the victims worry about their future if they leave, since without papers they have no way to earn money and feed their kids. And sometimes the victims are afraid to call the police, fearing they will be deported if the police find out they are undocumented,” Sister Rosemary explained.
A New Beginning
But once a victim comes to Casa, her life begins to change. It is the only domestic violence shelter in the area which welcomes women who are pregnant and provides counseling services. Additionally, Casa’s staff connect the women to a variety of resources: job training, “know your rights” classes, immigration legal aid and more.
Since Casa’s opening in 1998, Sister Rosemary has relied on collaboration. “You cannot be a lone ranger,” she said. She works regularly with ICE, border patrol, the sheriff’s office, local law enforcement as well as other advocacy groups. “Many times we collaborate with people with whom we don’t necessarily agree about everything,” she said. “But we need to respect their work, and they need to respect ours. We need to be able to talk through our issues in a productive way.”
Helping Immigrants See Hope
Sister Rosemary says her passion to serve immigrants began in 1981, when she ministered in Guatemala alongside sisters from Honduras, Mexico and Argentina. “I saw firsthand the situation—how U.S. policies had for years wreaked havoc in Latin American countries, creating violence and fear and compelling so many immigrants to cross the border in hopes of a better life. They did not, do not, want to leave their homes, their kids. They are so afraid, and they see no hope where they are.”
With help from Sister Rosemary and Casa staff, Maria is now able to see hope:
The staff and the volunteers assisted me with making a plan of action. For once, I felt that I was in control of my life and that of my children. I was able to get legal assistance and referrals to other services such as housing, and slowly, I became brave enough to start a new life. I learned how to help other women and families who have been in my situation. I was also assisted in applying for a U.S. Visa and am waiting for a response. I hope to get my social security number so I can work and become self-sufficient.
Maria’s story is just one of many. “We have to take every opportunity we can when it comes to helping our immigrant brothers and sisters,” said Sister Rosemary. “Hearts can be changed by this work of Mercy.”
*Name changed to protect the identity of the domestic violence survivor.