Tahirih Justice Center

Tahirih Justice Center is a national, non-profit organization that supports the courage of immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence by providing holistic legal services and advocacy in communities, courts, and Congress. Working to create a world where women and girls can live in safety and with dignity, Tahirih protects women and girls seeking protection from gender-based human rights abuses such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor crimes, and forced marriage.
Sep 22, 2014

What We're Doing to Protect Refugee Children

Dear Friends:
 
You’ve seen the tragedy reported in the press: children are fleeing violence in record numbers from Central American countries to seek safety in the United States. More young girls than ever before are making the dangerous trip north. Girls now make up 40% of fleeing children, and there has been a 140% increase in the number of girls under 12 apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border from 2013 to 2014.
 
Many have suffered sexual exploitation, gang violence, child abuse or abandonment, incest, and human trafficking in their home countries, which lack the governmental and judicial infrastructure to protect them. United States law requires that children fleeing violence be treated humanely and be granted the opportunity to make a case for legal protection, including refugee status. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening.
 
Girls at our border are in desperate need of Tahirih Justice Center’s legal advocacy. Please consider making a donation today to support Tahirih’s work on behalf of girls and women seeking justice in the United States.
 
Many vulnerable girls who risked their lives to escape violence in their home countries are now in detention and are being placed on a “rocket docket,” which schedules their court date within days of their arrival. Without time to obtain legal counsel, they are required to decide if they wish to apply for protection, clearly articulate their story, and make their legal case.
 
For a child who doesn’t speak English, distrusts authority, has suffered traumatizing violence, is exhausted from her journey, and knows little about the U.S. court system, it is nearly impossible to obtain justice without an advocate. In fact, 9 out of 10 children are deported if they do not have an attorney (compared to 1 in 4 for children with an attorney). At the same time, once a child is released from detention, her case may take 18-48 months to come to full trial and final adjudication. The immigration court system is under-resourced and experiencing delays that cause cases to be scheduled as far out as 2018. 
 
Last week, Tahirih staff were quoted in The Wall Street Journal about the difficulties obtaining justice in these circumstances. Further troubling are attempts by members of both the executive and legislative branches to roll back existing critical legal protections for unaccompanied children.
 
Tahirih Justice Center is on the front lines. Our public policy team is responding in Washington, DC to protect the children, and our Houston office is scrambling to meet the needs of girls arriving at their doors for help.
 
Their stories are tragic. Knowing the frequency of rape in transit, girls' families are sending them on their journey with birth-control injections. Our Houston Director Anne Chandler remarked, “It is at a point where, if we don’t see girls who have suffered sexual violence, we are surprised."

 

As supporters of Tahirih Justice Center, I want to take a moment to let you know what we’re doing to protect these vulnerable immigrant children, and let you know how you can impact their lives. We are:

 

Influencing the White House. On Aug. 7, Tahirih was one of just a few NGO representatives selected to offer White House officials proposals for administrative action that would help streamline the immigration system.
 
Protecting law designed to safeguard children. In early July, after the Obama administration requested $3.7B to address the refugee flow and recommended undoing areas of the law that protect immigrant children, Tahirih submitted testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee calling on the Senate to recognize that jailing and rapidly deporting unaccompanied, unrepresented children would be inhumane. As a result of public opposition, these provisions were not approved.
 
Fighting legislation that would harm children and survivors of violence. In late July, the House passed a new supplemental bill that significantly reduces funds allocated to the care of the children and instead focuses entirely on rapid deportation. In addition, it rolls back key legal protections for immigrant children currently in place. We are working alongside our coalition partners to ensure that these measures do not gain traction in the Senate. 
 
Training pro bono attorneys who want to help refugee children access justice. Tahirih Houston recently partnered with the Harris County Attorney’s Office, the Houston Bar Association, and numerous other private and public organizations to host a free continuing education seminar on unaccompanied minors that reached an estimated 500 legal and law enforcement professionals in Houston.  
 
Providing legal defense for unaccompanied refugee girls. Tahirih staff and pro bono partners are providing free legal and social services for immigrant girls fleeing violence. In Houston, we are increasing our staff and capacity to help more girls. 
 
In an effort to respond to the crisis, our resources are being spread thin. Please help us during this tragic time of need. It costs $5,000 to save the life of a girl, providing full legal representation and critical social and medical services. Please consider supporting a girl's full needs at this Life Saver level. If you have a child, your donation can be made in her or his name.
 
Your gift has the power to transform the life of a girl who has done everything in her power to reject violence.
 
Warmly,
 
 Layli Transparent Signature
Layli Miller-Muro
Executive Director
Jun 23, 2014

Unbreakable Bond: Mother Finds Her Way Back to Daughter After Seven Years Apart

Helina* didn’t need a recent photo to instantly recognize her daughter, now all grown up. As Ifrah* walked through the airport gate, Helina rushed to embrace her. Mother and daughter were together at last.

This Mother’s Day, we introduced you to Helina, a courageous mother who survived human trafficking and sought safety from her traffickers in the United States. With legal protection, Helina was safe, but she couldn’t truly move on. Helina had not seen her daughter, Ifrah,* in seven years.

This is the story of their reunion.

Helina left Ethiopia in 2009 to work as a housekeeper abroad. She was desperate to find a way to support her daughter. Helina sent Ifrah to live with her grandparents, and planned to send her earnings home to support them. But Helina became a prisoner to her employers. They took her passport, locked her in the house, and denied her pay, rest, and food.

Helina’s employers tried to cut her ties to the outside world. She had to sneak away to call her daughter using borrowed calling cards from a fellow worker. 

Helina’s ability to keep in touch with Ifrah abruptly ended when Helina’s employers took her on a trip the United States. She didn’t have access to her friend’s calling cards, and her employers monitored her every move.  

With her daughter’s future in mind, Helina made a daring escape. One day, while her captors slept, she took back her passport and ran away. An Ethiopian taxi driver noticed Helina on the street and introduced her to an Ethiopian community in Houston. The community connected her to the Tahirih Justice Center. Together with her attorneys, she won legal protection from her employers. Her visa simultaneously gave Helina the chance to reunite with her daughter in the United States.   

It took Helina and Ifrah, now 14, many excruciating months to prepare Ifrah’s application to join her in the United States. During this time, Helina received work authorization and began to make a living. She made new friends and found a supportive community. As the Courageous Voice Honoree Tahirih’s Houston Gala last fall, Helina shared her determination to see her daughter again. 

This April, the day she had been waiting for arrived. Helina and her attorneys went to greet Ifrah at the airport. Mother and daughter raced toward one another, finally bringing their years of separation to an end.

This story of courage is part of our 2014 Spring Newsletter. Find the full newsletter here.

*Name has been changed to protect client privacy.

Apr 1, 2014

Lessons from Eva on VAWA's Anniversary

At Tahirih Justice Center, March is an important anniversary for reflection and recommitment. One year ago, after a long struggle by a broad-based, bipartisan coalition of leading national advocates including Tahirih, President Obama signed the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act into law. This hard-won legislation provides critical tools to combat violence against women, help survivors rebuild their lives, and hold criminals accountable.

But for women like Eva* across the U.S., the fight to end violence is not over.

Eva fled Guatemala to escape her violently abusive boyfriend. She feared she would never be safe if she stayed in her home country. She took a job as a cook at an Italian restaurant in northwest Washington, D.C. It wasn’t long before she realized she wasn’t safe at the restaurant, either.

Over a period of three months, the restaurant owner sexually harassed and assaulted Eva. His verbal abuse quickly escalated into a series of violent attacks. When Eva was alone in the kitchen, her boss crept up behind her and groped her. He attacked her in the hallway, banging her head against the wall, and sexually assaulted her in the bathroom. Eva didn’t feel safe anywhere.

Like many criminals, her boss thought he would get away this abuse because Eva was an undocumented immigrant. He threatened to have Eva deported if she went to the police, and Eva kept quiet out of fear. After a particularly violent attack, Eva risked everything and reported her boss to the police.

Because of Eva’s courage, law enforcement officials arrested her attacker.

In partnership with a pro bono attorney from Arnold & Porter LLP, Tahirih helped Eva secure a U visa because she was a victim of a serious crime who suffered substantial harm and had the courage to assist law enforcement in making our community safer.

The U visa is a protection that was carefully crafted to reduce the immigrant vulnerability to crime and serve our whole nation’s security interests. Top law enforcement officials agree. Again and again, they encounter criminals who count on the fact that immigrant victims will be too fearful of deportation to get help from police.

“The most important thing is that I can be with my kids and keep them safe, that I can live and work without fear and move on with my life,” Eva recently told her Tahirih attorney. “Now, we can send a signal to other women. If this is happening to you, speak up and say something. It’s not right. You can stand up. You can speak the truth.”

In 2013, Tahirih helped more than 200 violent-crime victims like Eva achieve safety and rebuild their lives through the U visa program.

Unfortunately, there is an arbitrary limit on how many U visas can be issued in a year. In 2013, that cap was reached within a few months, leaving victims like Eva without an opportunity to put their trauma in the past. Instead, their names were added to an ever-growing waitlist, remaining in legal limbo and unable to stabilize themselves or their families.

Arbitrary limits like the cap on the number of annually available U visas are thwarting the potency of VAWA and other tools in the fight to end violence against women. We clearly have more work to do.

Tahirih and other leading national advocates are pressing Congress to raise the U visa cap and enact other survivor-inspired immigration provisions that would better protect immigrant women and girls from violence.

On this anniversary, let’s renew our commitment to end violence against women. Let’s ensure that VAWA lives up to its full potential. If we don’t, predators like Eva’s boss will capitalize on our nation’s inaction.

This article is part of our Winter 2014 Newsletter. Read the full newsletter.

*To protect client privacy, client name has been changed.
**Client’s comments to her attorney at the case’s conclusion have been paraphrased.

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