Below is a guest blog post from 2011 Equal Justice Works alumna, Adriana G. Rodriguez. Her Fellowship at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Laredo, Texas was sponsored by Texas Access to Justice Foundation. Most recently, she was recognized as the Domestic Violence Advocate of the Year by the City of Laredo and Webb County in Texas. Read how Adriana has empowered undocumented survivors of domestic violence along the U.S.-Mexico border to fight for their safety.
I returned home to Laredo, Texas as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in 2011. After learning about the prevalence of domestic violence and its long-term effects on families in the area, I wanted to empower survivors of domestic violence to seek and secure the protection they deserve. My experiences taught me that empowering mothers is the best way to improve outcomes for children. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) has a longstanding commitment to assisting survivors of domestic violence across South Texas. I wanted to replicate this success in Laredo, where I knew indigent survivors could not easily access civil legal services.
Mary came to TRLA in December of 2011. She was timid despite being a tall, powerful woman. She was disheveled with tired eyes and looked like she wanted to burst into tears. Frightened and homeless, Mary and her four children were terrified after her husband threatened to kill Mary, and then himself. She came to me for help in filing for divorce after 22 years of marriage. Upon hearing how her husband continuously terrorized her, I explained that a protective order might keep her and her children safe. While clearly afraid of angering her husband further, Mary found the strength to move forward with implementing the protective order.
At the hearing, Mary bravely told her story through tears. After her testimony, Mary’s husband surprisingly agreed to the protective order. We finalized Mary’s divorce on October 10, 2012, and she has not looked back since. We helped Mary and her eldest daughter apply for U-Visas as cooperative crime victims in the United States, which are currently in review with immigration.
The Fellowship has provided me the unique opportunity to “community lawyer” in my hometown for women just like Mary. As an active member of the Webb County Domestic Violence Coalition and the shelter attorney for Casa de Misericordia, I quickly learned how effective community collaboration directly impacts survivor success. Given the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s support in 2011, women like Mary can successfully access the civil legal remedies they desperately need.
All of my clients are survivors of domestic violence. Most, like Mary, are undocumented, indigent, and Spanish-speaking and have endured years of devastating abuse. Through trauma-informed and victim-centric practices, the project has successfully represented survivors in nearly 100 cases involving family violence protective orders, divorces, custody orders, and victim-based immigration status. This month, I’m starting my fourth year on the project. Fortunately, TRLA secured two additional years of funding for my position through a private donor after the Fellowship ended.
Since her separation, Mary started working, which she’d never been allowed to do, and has moved into a new apartment with her children. Each day Mary struggles to sustain shelter, provide food, nurse wounds, and ease the nightmares her children experienced when living with their father. Mary is one of the bravest women I know. Despite her daily challenges, Mary smiles, laughs, and no longer appears disheveled or hopeless. She believes that if she can overcome all of this, then she can overcome anything.
We call them survivors for a reason.