Client Stories

Client Stories

Our clients’ stories illuminate their resilience, tenacity, endurance, hope for the future and commitment to building a better life for themselves and their families. ILJ-MI donors and funders make it possible for our legal staff to walk beside our clients as they make their way through the U.S. immigration legal system.

Note: All clients’ names have been changed to protect their identity.

rosa africa

Rosa’s Story – Africa

Rosa is a 29-year-old medical doctor. Her home country is not disclosed to protect her safety.  Africa. At age seven, she was the victim of female genital mutilation and female circumcision at the hands of her family. Her sisters and cousins underwent the same procedure, as do most female members of her tribe. As a result, Rosa has undergone physical and psychological pain and trauma. 

She married a medical doctor from her tribe in her home country. They and their families live in the only large city with a hospital, and Rosa must finish her medical residency there. After two years of marriage, she became pregnant.  While in the U.S. for a medical course in July 2022, she gave birth to a baby girl.

Rosa does not want to return to her home country in Africa because she fears her baby will be subjected to the same torture and life of pain that she has endured. Rosa and her husband cannot protect her baby from this fate because it would be done behind their backs. Her parents or other relatives could grab their daughter from school and take her to the woman who performs these procedures.

JFON-MI’s staff attorney Mary Lou Boelcke recently applied for asylum on Rosa’s behalf.  Rosa wants to protect her baby from this mutilation as well as avoid reliving her own trauma. A kind woman in metro Detroit has taken Rosa and her baby in to provide them a free home. 

Because more than 1.5 million asylum seekers are now waiting for hearings on their cases, it could take several years before Rosa knows if she can remain in the U.S.  When a hearing is finally scheduled, JFON-MI staff will help prepare her testimony and attend the proceeding with her, likely in Chicago.  Meanwhile, Attorney Boelcke will remain in contact with Rosa and defend her if removal proceedings should occur. Unless Rosa’s husband could also legally come to the U.S., they will remain continents apart in order to protect their daughter from a barbaric custom. 

ben congo

Ben’s Story – Congo

Ben, who escaped while being transported to his execution in the Congo, has lived through unthinkable experiences because of his tangential involvement with a political candidate in his home country. Sadly, the ILJ Michigan staff regularly hear harrowing stories from our clients, but Ben’s is especially dreadful.  

Ben worked as an employee for a Commander in the police in the Congo as a computer technician. The Commander was also a political candidate, but Ben was not a member of his political party nor engaged in politics in any way. The night the Commander was arrested because of his candidacy, Ben happened to be in the Commander’s house setting up his computers. Ben was the only witness to the Commander’s arrest, who was detained in prison for three years before he was killed.

After the Commander’s death, Ben was summoned to the police and questioned about the Commander. They wanted him to admit that the Commander was planning a coup d’etat to take over the Congo and admit that the Commander had a cache of weapons and an army of men to take over the state. Because Ben refused to say that, he was arrested and detained in prison for two months, charged with “undermining and threatening the security of the state.” During his imprisonment, he was beaten, given only water and bread to eat and endlessly interrogated. Officers then took Ben and others to be executed. Ben has a relative in the police who had learned about this and arranged for Ben to be pushed off the transport truck in the middle of the night on the way to the execution. 

Ben returned briefly to his home and wife, four-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son.  He lived in hiding in a rural rebel settlement without them for over two years. He got help to leave the country and was able to get a visa to the U.S. After his departure, the police went to his home, arrested his wife, took her to the police station and beat and raped her. She was pregnant at the time and lost their baby.

The police put out arrest warrants for Ben and posted them in all the police stations and at the airport. Just last month the police went to his friend’s home looking for Ben. When he was not there, the police beat up his friend, who was hospitalized with head injuries.

On February 1, 2023, Ben’s wife and children were denied a visa to join him in the U.S. by the U.S. Embassy in the Congo. On March 17, 2023, Immigration Law & Justice Michigan filed an asylum application on Ben’s behalf. 

victor mexico

Victor’s Story – Mexico

Victor experienced many obstacles at a young age that could have easily led him to become bitter and mistrustful. Instead, Victor is optimistic and determined to reach his goals. In high school, he was not only a leader in the classroom, but also on the soccer field in the role of team captain. In 2019, he received a full ride scholarship to attend the University of Michigan. He graduated in May 2023 with honors and a bachelor’s degree in finance. During his time as a student at U of M he was a research assistant, a Sponsors for Educational Opportunity Fellow, and a Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholar and mentor. Completing a ten-week internship on Wall Street as an undergraduate led to the opportunity to secure a full-time position there during summer 2023 to begin his career. Victor continues to be a leader in his community and inspire anyone who crosses his path. 


Tetiana and Olesia’s Story-  Ukraine

Chaos ensued in Ukraine after Russia invaded in February 2022. 

As curfew was being instated in their hometown of Kharkiv, Olesia and her mom, Tetiana had only a few hours to prepare to leave.  Thinking they would be able to return soon, they packed only their cat and enough clothes for three days. For 15 hours, they traveled by train from the east to the west border of Ukraine along with enormous crowds of people fleeing to Poland.

Fighting to stay together in the commotion, they finally boarded a train out of the country. During the difficult trip, they were pressed up against other passengers for the eight-hour ride to Poland. Though they couldn’t move, they were relieved they’d been able to squeeze onto the train together. Before fleeing Ukraine, Olesia was a university student studying biology, and Tetiana was an English teacher for grades 5-11. For nearly a year after they arrived in Poland, Tetiana and Olesia worked in a community center and a restaurant, doing their best to support themselves while living in tight quarters with family. Any extra income was donated to the Ukrainian armed forces or used to help those still in Ukraine.

Nearly 30 years ago, Tetiana had been a high school exchange student living with a host family near Flint. After Tetiana returned to Ukraine, she stayed in touch with her host mom and host sister, Nancy and Jeannie.

After the war broke out, Jeannie frantically contacted Tetiana to see if her family was safe. During their ongoing communication, Jeannie offered to sponsor Tetiana and Olesia in her Traverse City home where she had space for a basement apartment. Although Olesia was upset about traveling still further away from her homeland, she was excited to meet Jeannie and her family after hearing so much about them throughout the years. After Tetiana and Olesia accepted the invitation last fall, Jeannie contacted the JFON-MI office in Traverse City to seek help with the sponsorship process through the Uniting for Ukraine program. Everything moved quickly, and on January 12, 2023, Tetiana, Olesia, and their cat Knopa traveled to the U.S. On the flight to Detroit, Tetiana cried tears of relief that they would have a safe place to stay with people they knew and loved. Arriving in Traverse City, they were welcomed with open arms by Jeannie and her family and friends.

Once in Michigan, Bethany Christian Services helped them settle into their new home, and JFON-MI attorney Marcelo Betti completed the paperwork for their work permits. At Michigan Works, Tetiana learned about a job opening that fit her skills.  Now she helps other people navigate the process of finding work, including other Ukrainians arriving in northern Michigan. Hired to help in the kitchen at local coffee shop Mundos, Olesia has already received a promotion and enjoys her job and colleagues.

The trauma of leaving their home in Ukraine over a year ago has caused nightmares, insomnia, and sorrow. Olesia and Tetiana are deeply grateful to Jeannie’s family for the generous hospitality and care they’re providing during their displacement. Looking forward to the day they can safely return to Ukraine, they’ve already made plans to host Jeannie and her family to proudly show them their country that they so dearly love and miss.