Gabrielle: an immigrant survivor

"I'm not the person I was when I met him. I was outgoing, I had an education, I had a plan for my future."

Gabrielle* is a 35-year-old mother of three American-born children. She met her husband, Albert, through friends in their home country. After more than a year of dating, she became pregnant with their first child and moved to Philadelphia.  She left her country, her family and friends and a stable and well-paying job with medical benefits. She was looking forward to starting a new life with him in a new country.

Initially, Albert offered to sponsor her and help her become a permanent U.S. resident. Gabrielle was thrilled as this would make it easier for her to find a job after having her first child. But gradually, Albert changed and he refused to sponsor her. He wouldn't allow her to get a driver's license, a car, or have a bank account. She couldn't apply for a job. He refused to provide medical insurance for her and their children. Things got worse when he even refused to take them for medical check-ups or emergency visits. The children had never been to the dentist or an eye doctor.

Everything she did upset him. He would verbally abuse Gabrielle and the children.  Gabrielle, as an undocumented immigrant, knew that she was at risk of deportation. Exploiting that, Albert threatened to report her to immigration and get her deported. During her pregnancy, he would accuse her of having affairs and would repeatedly tell her that the child she was carrying was not his child.  He made her feel like she was an embarrassment to him and his family.

Apart from verbal abuse, she was being physically assaulted. If they went out, he would punch her face and try to push her out of the car. Sometimes, he would purposely slam the car door on her hand.

Albert also refused to provide for them financially. Gabrielle sold her engagement ring in order to pay for their groceries, bills, and any emergencies that may arise. Albert's family was kind enough to provide them with a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But recently they were asked to leave, which meant they would have nowhere to go.

One evening, after being brutally hit by Albert, Gabrielle locked herself in a room and called the police. But by the time the police arrived, he was gone. Soon, she was granted a protection from abuse order which was valid for three years. She was referred to WIT where a counselor assisted her with writing a letter to Nationalities Service Center, documenting the abuse, which is an essential part of the VAWA self-petition process.

The counselor also assisted Gabrielle with safety planning and supported her in setting and reaching her goals. Now, she has a visa, sole custody of her children, and has relocated to her own apartment.  She is living separately from her husband and raising the children on her own.  She plans to continue working and provide her children with a safe, loving and supportive environment.