In 2018, Tahirih’s Houston office has maintained a reputation for providing holistic direct services to immigrant women and children in addition to community education, outreach, and policy advocacy. We’re pleased to announce that the Houston office is on track to exceed our annual goals.
Through September of 2018, we have:
- Provided legal representation to 805 women and girls.
- Trained 1,357 professionals on trauma-informed approaches to supporting survivors of violence, well over our goal of 500.
- Reached 3,835 individuals with our mission and message, further augmenting the community's awareness of issues that immigrant survivors of violence face and giving voice to our clients, who are often left voiceless.
2018 Challenges & Local Response
2018 has also been witness to the continued erosion of asylum protections that directly impact our work, the needs of our clients, and the climate of fear that immigrant communities in Texas continue to live:
- Family separation policies that cruelly separate parents from their children, cause irreparable harm to families, and have resulted in hundreds of children being deemed “legally orphaned” after their parents were deported without them.
- Matter of A-B-, in which former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision undermining the validity of asylum claims based on domestic violence – damaging more than two decades of legal precedent protecting immigrant women and children in the process, and resulting in many erroneous negative decisions in recent months.
- New standards for unaccompanied children, requiring them to meet the much higher standards of asylum protection than the protections previously offered to minors.
- The current “turn-back” policy, which severely limits access to asylum seekers creates chaos at the U.S. and Mexican border for thousands of individuals waiting to seek entry.
These challenges mean that our team has been called into action beyond what has historically been required, and at times have demanded that we shift our programmatic priorities to ensure that we are respond appropriately to the needs of the community we serve while continuing to support our existing clients. These responses, outside of our typical direct services, include:
- Detained Women: Legal staff have visited women being held in detention facilities throughout Texas who received negative credible fear interviews.
- Detained Children: Houston’s Children’s Attorney spent 4 days at a crowded emergency children’s shelter built on a non-operational U.S. Port of Entry outside of El Paso called Tornillo, where he provided intakes, court preparation, and Know-Your-Rights presentations to detained minors.
- Migrant Caravans: Sent multiple teams to Mexico City and Tijuana to work with immigrant women and children traveling with the “caravans” to provide information about their rights and what to expect upon their arrival in the U.S., particularly for young girls traveling alone.
Through our work, we have been able to provide invaluable support to women like *Abigail. Abigail is a 35-year-old woman from Central America who fled her home country in the wake of sexual assault, fleeing gang members who raped and assaulted her. Upon arriving in Houston, Abigail obtained a job working as a waitress at a nightclub and became acquainted with one of the security guards at work. She was looking for a new place to live and a roommate; her co-worker offered a room for rent in his apartment, and Abigail moved in. Sadly, instead of a safe place to call home, Abigail woke up one morning and found that she was trapped, with the door was locked from the outside. When her roommate returned home that day, he told her that she could not leave the house without him, handcuffed her to the stair railing, held a gun to her head, and raped her. He then proceeded to force her to prostitute herself over the course of several months.
Abigail escaped with the help of a woman she met at one of the bars where she was forced to work, and reported the trafficking to law enforcement. Abigail was referred to Tahirih by the Houston Area Women’s Center. With the support Tahirih, Abigail learned about her legal options, including her eligibility to apply for a T visa as a victim of human trafficking. With Tahirih support, Abigail filed her application, and it was recently granted. Abigail worked with Tahirih staff to meet her goals and fill urgent needs for medical advocacy, assistance applying for CVC, and educational referrals. In addition, Abigail worked with our community partners, a refugee resettlement agency, to receive the benefits she is entitled to as a survivor of human trafficking. Abigail is now able to live and work legally in the United States, and continue the healing process in safety.