Overcoming A Decade of Trauma: Wanda’s Story

Wanda* was subjected to domestic violence by her partner in her home country of Guatemala. After one particularly severe attack, she fled to the United States in search of a safer life. At the time, she did not have the financial means to bring her son and had to leave him behind.

Once in the United States, she met Carlos*, who offered her a job and a place to rent. New to the country and without other contacts or resources, Wanda accepted.

After a while, Carlos told Wanda that she also needed to start working for his cleaning company, and that she would make more money that way. After about another month, Carlos told Wanda that she had to sleep with him if she wanted to keep her jobs and housing. He threatened to call immigration if she refused.

Wanda did not know at the time, but this was the beginning of nearly a decade of forced labor and sexual servitude. Carlos ensured that Wanda always worked at night, and alone, so that he had access to her whenever he wanted.

Wanda attempted to escape at one point. She changed her number and moved to a different place. However, Carlos found her new number and began threatening that he would get Wanda deported, and that he would hurt her son in Guatemala. After numerous threats, she returned because she wanted to protect her son.

Carlos increased his threats about deportation after President Trump took office. He said that it would be even easier now, and he would just have to make one call to have her deported. Wanda determined that she had to leave before this could happen, and found an organization (not Ayuda, yet), which helped her make a safety plan so she could leave.

Wanda ultimately escaped, and then she reported Carlos to the police. She assisted the police with their investigation of Carlos.

Wanda was then referred to Ayuda. Ayuda submitted a T-visa application (type of visa for victims of trafficking) for Wanda. Ayuda also connected Wanda to its social services program.

USCIS issued a Request for Additional Evidence in the case, which asked for, among other things, additional evidence that Wanda required any medical, mental health, or social services that are not readily available in her home country.

Wanda did not have enough money to cover a psychological evaluation, which is a report written by a psychologist that assesses client trauma and their needs for additional treatment. Submitting a psychological evaluation to USCIS can be particularly helpful to provide evidence of client trauma and their need for mental health services.

Luckily, funding from the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s Resilience Fund grant was able to cover the cost of a psychological evaluation for Wanda.

This report provided an evaluation of Wanda’s mental health, and how it had been impacted by the trauma inflicted by her trafficker. Additionally, the report discussed Wanda’s needs for further services, which would not be available in her home country. This report was submitted along with additional evidence to USCIS.

Soon afterward, Wanda received the exciting news that her T visa was approved. Along with her own approval, Wanda is now able to begin the process of bringing her son to the United States, as a derivative on her T visa application.

Thanks to the support of the Resilience Fund, Wanda was able to get legal status, work authorization, and access to other benefits in the United States, and she is on her way to reuniting with her son.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of client