Immigrant mom gains stability, newfound independence

Mother holds 5-year-old son with school-age daughters standing on each side. All smiling.

Born in Mexico, Gloria came to the United States as a visitor. She met someone, married, had a child, and stayed in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. The marriage ended and she later remarried and had three more children. Gloria faced domestic violence in this second marriage and turned to Esperanza United, a nonprofit working to end gender-based violence, for shelter and support. That’s when a caseworker referred her to Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) to address her legal challenges.

Some Legal Aid cases take years to resolve and require involvement by attorneys across several divisions. Gloria’s* was one such case. Due to complexities, the case engaged four attorneys over eight years before coming to a positive resolution. 

Family Law and Immigration Issues

“We often see cases that involve expertise across multiple MMLA units,” explained Meg Hennessy, assistant supervising attorney with the Immigration Law Project. “Immigration status was only one aspect of Gloria’s situation. She also needed an order of protection from her husband, help with divorce proceedings and resources for obtaining stable housing and a work permit.

“My divorce was very complicated and stressful,” Gloria said. “My ex-husband wanted full custody of our child and kept threatening to call immigration authorities on me. Meg became my immigration attorney, and a family law attorney also joined my case. It was a team effort to help me with the divorce and toward adjusting my immigration status.”

MMLA filed a Violence Against Women (VAWA) petition which allows noncitizen victims to seek both safety and independence from their abusers. The attorneys also worked through contentious proceedings to finalize a divorce. At the same time, Meg worked with Gloria toward obtaining U Visa status, a designation for people like Gloria who have been victims of abuse or other criminal activity. It took years to research and resolve various issues from Gloria’s past for her to qualify for a U Visa. In January 2022, eight years after opening her case, Gloria received her U Visa status and can soon apply for permanent residency in the U.S.

Looking back, Gloria still feels the pain and stress of her former situation. “There were many obstacles, and I suffered a lot in my personal life,” she shared. “I feared I would not be able to raise my children and give them a successful life. I was dependent on other people for transportation, shelter, and meals. I couldn’t legally work.”

Gaining Independence and Stability

Gloria was overcome with joy when her cases were finally resolved. Without Legal Aid’s involvement, she thinks she would have been forced to live on the streets or be deported to Mexico and unable to see her children. In her view, it’s the independence she gained that is most gratifying. 

“I don’t even have words to describe how thankful I am for Legal Aid,” Gloria said. “Now I have a small house, I work, I drive a car and I can do a lot of things for myself. Now it’s heaven compared to all the things I faced back then.”

– Esperanza

Working from the Heart

Working on Gloria’s case was rewarding for Meg. “Gloria endured a lot of hardships and uncertainty, and now she’s able to create more stability for herself and her family,” Meg said. “I feel honored and humbled that Gloria shared her story with me. She is a good self-advocate and a resilient and strong person. This one will stay with me for a long time.” 
Gloria, too, won’t soon forget her experience with MMLA. What most impressed her about Legal Aid was the compassion of the attorneys. She describes how all her lawyers provided her with resources and referrals in addition to expert legal representation. She also noted how she felt seen by the attorneys as a whole person, not just another case file.

“Meg was so wonderful to me,” Gloria said. “She was extremely professional but also very compassionate toward my situation. She went above and beyond to help me access programs and resources I needed, even if they weren’t directly related to my legal case. It was fantastic how she connected with me as a human being, a person, a woman and helped me resolve many problems in my life. I’m convinced Legal Aid attorneys work from their hearts.”

*name changed to protect client identity