After a long journey and many trials, Isabel has finally realized her American Dream.
Sixteen years ago Isabel thought she was home free. She came to the United States legally from Mexico on a visa and joined other family members in this small, quiet northeast Indiana town. Here she could finally pursue her dream of going to school and, perhaps one day, raise a family without fear of crime and deprivation. So even with its snow and cold winters, this place seemed like a paradise.
Life in her native Mexico City was anything but. Isabel’s childhood was full of fear and uncertainty. In the poor neighborhood where she grew up, she and her family lived in constant danger of gangs, crime and drug-related violence. Fear of being mugged or killed was just a normal part of everyday life.
“I could not even walk to the market without being afraid,” says Isabel. “It was a very dangerous place.”
At a young age, Isabel had to quit school to work so she could help her family make ends meet. In those circumstances, her dream of getting an education became little more than a fantasy. Her only horizon was one of constant fear, crushing poverty and bleak prospects.
All of that seemed behind her when, at 17, she had a chance to come to the United States. She was finally able to enroll in high school and four years later, something remarkable happened: Isabel had worked very hard and graduated with a high-school diploma, a terrific achievement for someone who only a short time earlier did not speak the language and lacked a foundation in formal education.
“This seemed like a very safe place, a wonderful place with lots of opportunity,” she says. “I was very happy with my life.”
Then Isabel met a man, fell in love and got married. That marriage produced a beautiful daughter Kailey. Tragically, her husband became abusive so she did, what for her was unthinkable – contemplate divorce.
“When I got married, I believed [marriage] was for life,” says Isabel. “So it was a very, very difficult decision for me to leave.”
But while divorcing her husband would free her and her daughter from harm, it would also put her at risk of deportation because she did not have a green card. She was very afraid of being sent back to the dangers of Mexico City so she turned to a friend who referred her to Catholic Charities.
Through our agency’s Immigration Services, Isabel found hope. The silver lining for her was receiving permission to stay under VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), a law enacted in 1994 that allows spouses and children of U.S. citizens to self-petition to obtain a green card. Isabel petitioned for VAWA status, which was granted to her in 2015.
Now on her own, Isabel was filled with equal measures of relief and uncertainty. She saw the long road ahead to independence and knew, that to provide adequately for her daughter, she would have to continue her education so she could land a better paying job. With that goal in mind, she enrolled at Ivy Tech with her sights set on a two-year degree in Business Operations Applications and Technology.
Isabel is now on track to complete that degree in August of this year. In the meantime, she is holding down two jobs (one as a tax preparer and the other as an administrative assistant in an export company) and looking after daughter Kailey. She has also been studying to become a US citizen, a test that she just passed in April.
“I’m so happy now to be a citizen,” says Isabel. “I am truly living my American Dream.”
So this Mother’s Day, all we descendants of immigrants honor our sister immigrant Isabel, who worked very hard, sacrificed much and overcame great adversity to realize her dream. In turning her tragic life around, she has become a great role model for both her daughter and her new hometown of Angola.