A Bond Beyond Borders: One Staff Attorney’s Persistence Reunites Sisters Countries Apart

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Immigration Law and Justice Michigan (ILJ-MI) is a respected resource for legal services and assists low-income immigrants with their immigration into the United States. But while many of our clients are seeking citizenship, there are other services that new clients or previous clients come to us for assistance with, including adjustment of status, DACA, and reuniting families. This story is a heartfelt example of the latter that portrays how ILJ-MI can be beneficial for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in more ways than just citizenship. 

The story begins with a former client, Valentina who first came to the United States from Mexico when she was just 14 years old. Valentina is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (better known as DACA) recipient. After receiving assistance from ILJ-MI staff attorney Kourtney James, Valentina now calls Michigan her permanent home. Every two years, she works with James to renew her DACA and work authorization to remain in compliance with DACA requirements. 

Near the end of 2022, Valentina learned that her sister Marianna, who still resided in Mexico, had been experiencing severe, lingering health issues after contracting Covid-19. Realizing that her sister’s illness was becoming worse, she desperately wanted to travel to her home country to comfort and care for Marianna. 

Valentina had not seen her sister since she moved to the United States decades ago. She expressed her desire to see her sister to James, who explained that for her to leave the United States and be able to return with permission, she would need to apply for a travel document from United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS). 

If Valentina left the United States without a travel document, it is very unlikely that she would be allowed to reenter. This travel document would give her permission to leave the country and seek legal reentry upon her return, but the application process is rigorous.  

Valentina and James worked together on the travel document application by completing the paperwork and gathering the proper evidence, which included a letter from Marianna’s doctor outlining her condition. After several weeks of document sharing and communications with USCIS, the application was submitted in September of 2022. 

Typically, it takes an application like this approximately a year or even longer to receive approval from USCIS, so Valentina and James prepared for an extended waiting period. Shockingly, just a few months later, in January of 2023, Valentina’s travel document application was approved! She was granted permission to visit her sister! 

In February of 2023, Valentina, her husband, and their children all traveled to see Marianna. They spent a couple of weeks together bonding as a family. They were finally reunited after so many years and were overjoyed. 

After returning to the United States, Valentina shared how grateful she was for her attorney and ILJ-MI. “I felt comfortable with James because she doesn’t feel like a lawyer, she feels like someone who respects me, there’s no intimidation or seriousness, she is always friendly and smiling,” said Valentina. “Thank you very much for all of the support you’ve given to me and my family over these past 10 years. Blessings to all of you today, tomorrow, and forever!” 

It was truly our pleasure to assist Valentina. James and the rest of the ILJ-MI staff look forward to providing happy conclusions to other clients like Valentina and her family in the future. 

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