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Sonia's Thirteen Year Fight

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Thirteen years.

Since 2010, Sonia* has been fighting for her right to stay in the US with her two daughters, and in March 2024, she finally won!

Sonia and her lawyer holding up her green card, smiling.

For those of us lucky to know Sonia, we know that she has been fighting for most of her life.  She overcame her parents’ abandonment, started working to support herself at the age of 12, migrated to the United States in 2000, and survived years of abuse with the father of her children before separating from him in 2009.

A year later, in 2010, police discovered Sonia had false documents which she used to work to support herself and her daughters.  This resulted in a criminal conviction.  Although the criminal court sentenced her to probation, Sonia spent the next two and half years locked up in immigration detention in Eloy, Arizona, separated from her two teenage daughters.

In 2010, PLAN did not exist, but Sonia had a great lawyer advocating for her, Mercedes Ryden (then in private practice at Burns Law Office).  But even the best lawyers do not always win because the law is often stacked against us.  In 2011, the immigration judge ruled that Sonia’s conviction made her ineligible for legal status and ordered her deportation. Despite this obstacle, Sonia, along with Mercedes, persisted in their fight.

With unwavering determination, Sonia and her legal team appealed her case to a higher court, first to the Board of Immigration Appeals (where she lost again) and then to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with pro bono representation from the wonderful Kara Hartzler.  Luckily in 2014, during this appeals process, the law changed.  And ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) and the court eventually agreed that Sonia’s conviction did NOT disqualify her and that she deserved a chance to present an application for residency.  

By this time, it was 2015. Sonia had gotten out of detention and been reunited with her daughters and her new husband in Phoenix.  As her immigration case took a turn for the better, her personal life took a turn for the worse.

Sonia’s husband, who had supported her throughout her 2+ years detention, becomes violent, abusive, and controlling after her release.  He threatens to call the police on her and tells her that if she leaves him, she would be deported.  Despite her fears of deportation and further detention, at her daughter’s urging, Sonia leaves her husband. Unbeknownst to her, this difficult experience opens a new opportunity for immigration status through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Unfortunately, after separating from her husband, Sonia cannot afford to pay her long-time attorney, Mercedes, who was already representing her low bono (at a discount). Determined to ensure Sonia received the legal support she deserved; Mercedes reaches out to the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) in 2019.  PLAN, which existed as a pilot project within FIRRP at that time, agrees to provide free representation to Sonia.

In September 2019, Sonia applies for VAWA with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).  With the support of PLAN and FIRRP, Sonia also successfully continues her immigration court case to await a decision on her VAWA application.  Two years later, in 2021, USCIS approves her VAWA application, opening the door for her to apply for permanent residence.

BUT, as with many immigration cases, there is a line and Sonia is not at the front of it.  And the line is always changing.  In October 2022, Sonia finds herself at the front of the line, but her court hearing is only in April 2023.  In April 2023, the line moves backward. Sonia is no longer at the front.  We go to court ready, but it has to be continued again until Sonia is at the front.  After a few more continued court hearings Sonia’s moment finally comes in March of this year. At her final hearing, after more than thirteen years, the immigration judge grants Sonia’s request for permanent residence and affirms her resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

After her triumphant win, Sonia, her daughter, and our lawyer, Rekha, celebrate at Novel Ice Cream. Amidst the joy and relief, Sonia's daughter captures the essence of the moment by saying;

“Mom, do you feel that the air? It’s freedom.”
Sonia smiling, holding an ice cream sandwich

We are so happy that Sonia and her daughters now have the security of knowing that Sonia has the right to remain a part of our community permanently and have the freedom to plan for a future together.

Sonia has a deep love and pride in her daughters and her work as the manager of housekeeping at one of the Valley’s largest venues. As she embarks on this new chapter, Sonia remains ever ambitious. She has her eyes set on eventually becoming a manager at an even larger venue and on U.S. citizenship. Although only eligible for citizenship in five years, she eagerly asked Rekha to send her the citizenship questions now to begin studying.  

We are honored to have been part of Sonia’s remarkable journey of resilience, courage, and triumph and remain in awe of Sonia's unwavering spirit and determination to overcome obstacles and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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