As Mother’s Day 2019 approaches, CLINIC has collected the stories of four mothers who have gone through or are currently going through the asylum process. It is our hope that these stories illustrate the experience of motherhood under extreme circumstances, and how they are connected by perseverance, love, and hope.
Mariam* is a single mother originally from the Middle East. She, alongside her children, survived severe domestic violence that led them to seek asylum in the United States. The government had no adequate system to provide protection in her home country, so she fled, fearing for her safety and that of her family. “I could not figure a way to stay since there were no safety measures. The culture and the community do not provide protection for kids and women who are going through domestic violence. I did not want to leave, but I did not have a choice,” Mariam said.
Mariam also spoke about her struggles when reaching the U.S.: “When we first arrived to the U.S., I felt pure fear and it doesn’t go away.” Mariam’s struggles were many and her fears complex. She was also aware of the cultural differences they would face as a family, but it was nothing compared to fearing for their safety. “I know that deep inside they resented the treatment they had received back home, but they knew we were leaving. We were sad, but we were going to be safe too. That is what made it easier. My children were little, but kids know,” shared Mariam.
After Mariam applied for asylum in the United States, she had to wait an established period of time to apply for work authorization. As she waited for approval, she had to rely on family and friends to financially support her and her children. Mariam later learned that her situation was not uncommon in asylum cases and asked herself why asylum seekers who have limited resources should be made to wait for a work permit they need to sustain themselves and their families.
It was not until she received the authorization to work that Mariam was able to seek financial independence. However, Mariam pointed out that “it was a little difficult for people to understand that I had work experience to work here, but it still limited my choices.” When Mariam sought employment, with authorization, she found that many employers lacked an awareness of how the hiring process can differ when interviewing immigrants, asylum-seekers and asylees. The lack of employer’s awareness regarding Mariam’s immigration status and ability to work in the U.S. created different challenges for her during the asylum process.
Mariam is fluent in Arabic and English. Unlike many asylum-seekers, she was lucky to not experience a language barrier during her asylum process. Her English skills and access to online resources allowed her to better navigate the situation. “I could communicate and speak, but was aware that others didn’t have that privilege. That always bothered me. There were things that, if you did not have the language skills, you might not understand your asylum rights,” said Mariam.
After three years, Mariam and her children were granted asylum and have recently become lawful permanent residents. Becoming a resident came with mixed feelings for Mariam. “I was so happy that I was granted. One of the things that made me feel comfortable was that by law and according to authorities, they are allowing me to stay. Leaving the Middle East was the hardest decision to make, because you leave your home behind–until this moment, I am still homesick,” shared Mariam.
Mariam sees her children blossoming into empathetic and brave young people, leading healthy lives, despite the hardships and sacrifices. “I believe they came from a place where they were suppressed and extremely depressed because of all they had to go through. They had a great amount of fear. Being underestimated, abused and unable to seek protection was very hard for them to fully understand as little kids,” said Mariam. Her children, clearly taking after their mother, have demonstrated their own brand of resilience; they have become outspoken, optimistic and helpful human beings. “They have gone through a lot, and they know how to empathize with their friends. I feel so proud,” Mariam said.
It is an essential part of one’s life to be acknowledged and recognized as a person who has inherent rights. Mariam has found a different voice and sense of agency in her new home. She has become part of the strong community where she feels validated and seen. “I will be honest, there have been moments where I have been discriminated against because of my color or my legal status. But, I always had someone to lean on who understood, condemned, and stood with me.” Mariam’s story brings light to a mother’s love and persistence to protect their family, no matter the sacrifice.
*Name has been changed
Want to demonstrate your support of mothers like Mariam? Sign our petition calling on the administration to end their relentless attacks on asylum seekers.