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Sanctuary for Families Provides Sanctuary from Family

(from L to R) Sanctuary for Families attorneys Vasudha Talla and Archana Pyati helped win asylum for a young woman abused by her family.

Like many teens coming of age in the United States, Fareeda, now 19, enjoys listening to music, reading graphic novels, dreams of traveling the world, and embraces girl power. In fact, she identifies as a feminist. Her beliefs go against those of her mother, father, and brother who adhere to a strict and conservative interpretation of Islamic law. To them, her choices are blasphemous, and they routinely physically and verbally abused her.

After years of living in the U.S. on temporary visas, the family’s bid for asylum was refused. As Fareeda waited with her family in a shelter for the soon-to-be deported, her brother told her flatly that he would kill her once they returned to their home country in South Asia. “It made me feel as though all hope for a peaceful, normal life was lost,” says Fareeda, “I was terrified with the thought of my family members having the freedom to abuse me without having to answer to anyone.”

For years, she had concealed her abuse for fear that revealing it would get her family deported. But with deportation inevitable, and a death threat looming over her, Fareeda finally came forward about the abuse to a counselor at the shelter. Sanctuary for Families was called right away.

“Once she was transferred to a detention center in our jurisdiction, we met with her immediately,” says Archana Pyati, a lawyer specializing in asylum cases at Sanctuary for Families, the largest nonprofit in the state dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. With over two decades of funding from The Trust, the agency has been able to expand free legal services to foreign-born victims of violence. “A 2008 grant of $75,000 went specifically to help get asylum for girls and young women who have been victims of gender-based violence. Subsequent grants of $330,000 have continued to support poor immigrant women in need of help,” says Joyce Bove, senior vice president for programs. “We are proud to know that our funding is helping to save lives.”

“This isn’t like a criminal case in which criminal defenders are provided if defendants cannot afford private counsel. Immigrants in detention have to pay for a lawyer, and as a result, the majority do not have one,” continues Pyati. “That’s where we come in. Our first challenge was to make a strong case that she needed asylum. To do this you must prove that you would be persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group in your home country. Gender-based claims don’t always fit neatly in to these categories. We framed her asylum claim to reflect that she would be persecuted on account of her religion, because she wasn’t adhering to Islam.  We also argued that because she identified as a feminist, her political opinions would put her directly in harm’s way.”

With their client in a detention facility and without friends and family to help, Fareeda’s Sanctuary for Families counsel, Archana Pyati and Vasudha Talla, a Liman Public Interest Fellow, were on their own to compile legal briefs, find and prepare expert testimony on conditions in her home country, and gather evidence from witnesses—all within a couple months. “Having to describe the tragic events in my life over and over was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” says Fareeda. “Some days I just wanted to give up and crawl into a hole.  However, Vasudha and Archi worked really hard to make sure my case was as strong as it could be, seeing their determination gave me courage.”

In the end, they were able to convince the judge to grant asylum. Fareeda now has the right to apply for a green card in one year and then for full citizenship. Today, she is in a two-year college, enjoys English and history classes, and is looking forward to a career in social work.

The grants mentioned in this story are made possible largely through our Mildred Anna Williams Fund, created in 1939 to help girls and young women. Other support for Sanctuary for Families comes from dozens of donors who have funds in The Trust. Learn more about Mildred Anna Williams.
The name of the client has been changed to protect her identity.

The following video premiered at Sanctuary for Family's 2012 benefit. "From Victim to Victor" features the journeys of three different individuals from abuse and fear to safety and healing, and the many ways Sanctuary's services can change lives.

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