Tahirih Justice Center

The 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 courts, communities, 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.
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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Jan 15, 2014

You Helped Me Access Justice

I just received a full scholarship to go to college. Never in my life would I have imagined writing these words except in a dream. It’s all possible because of people like you.

You see, I grew up in a very conservative community in southwest Iran. For as long as I can remember, my father treated me and my mother like servants in our own home. No matter how hard we tried to please him, he found a reason to beat us and threaten to kill us. I’ll never forget the time he hurled a butcher knife at my head when I was 10 because I didn’t say “hello” to my uncle when he entered our home. I threw my hands up to protect my face, and the knife went through my right hand, causing severe bleeding. I was not allowed to see a doctor.

My father got away with this because women were treated as property or worse in my family—my paternal relatives beheaded their wives and daughters for disobeying orders and fleeing arranged marriages.

Despite my persistence to get out of the house and go to school, my father told me I would never be a source of pride because I am a girl. He said being obedient to men was our destiny as women.

When I turned 15, my father arranged for me to marry my cousin. I dreaded a life of never-ending misery. My mother, a brave and strong-willed woman, decided it was time to save us both. In the middle of the night, with only a few clothes and a blanket, we ran away. We spent the next seven years in hiding.

During my travels abroad with relatives, I befriended an American man. I fell in love, and when he proposed, my mother and I agreed I should accept his offer. My fiancé helped me obtain a visitor’s visa and I followed him to America, but he soon revealed he was already married and left me stranded. I felt so alone, with no home, no family and no resources.

Finding Tahirih changed everything. My attorneys and social service aides helped me access the food, shelter and support services I needed to survive. Their unwavering support gave me the courage to move forward and share my story with an asylum officer. After several difficult months, I was granted asylum. I felt like I had a second chance at life.

I found work as a translator for the U.S. military and have been doing so for the past three years. Today, I am determined to earn a degree in criminal justice because I want to have a career protecting others like Tahirih protected me.

You have the power to open similar doors for an immigrant woman or girl in a desperate situation.

Please make a generous gift today and help other courageous women and girls as they fight with Tahirih to escape violence and fulfill their true destinies.

Meena*

*Name has been changed to protect client privacy. 

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