Helping fellow immigrants

US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty. Marco F.G. Tomakin (The Freeman) - April 18, 2021 - 12:00am

This week a client shared her sad immigration journey. Yola is from a small Eastern European country. For years, as a single mother, she raised her son alone, working three jobs to make ends meet. One day, she met Roco, a childhood friend vacationing from the US. They spent some time together and found they had a lot in common. Roco returned to the US, but they kept in touch.

They fell in love. So Roco went back to her country and proposed to marry her here in the US. Eventually, she came over under a fiancée visa bringing her son with her. They got married in New York and lived together as a couple. At first it was a dream. Roco was very involved with raising her son and acted as a real father. Yola felt her dreams were fulfilled. She had a decent job, a loving husband, a healthy son, she felt her family was complete. As part of their arrangement, she pays the house mortgage but the title was to be under Roco's name. She also pays the bills, while he pays for the groceries and house upkeep.

But little did she know that a big problem was looming. Roco, like her, was also a divorcee, and had an adult son. Little did they know that this adult son was still so bitter about his parents' breakup and was envious of the attention Roco showered Yola's son. This animosity against Yola and her son grew through the years. One day, Roco suffered a heart attack. Because his older son was named in his will as his healthcare proxy, he excluded Yola from participating in his medical care. She wasn’t included in any major decisions including taking care of Roco after hospitalization. The son took Roco to his own home and forbade Yola and her son from visiting. They even filed a restraining order against them, accusing her of causing Roco's heart attack. She was also asked to leave the house (which she has already completely paid for) because it was under Roco's name. After a few months, Roco divorced her. Yola felt that she was taken advantage of not only by his son, but also by Roco in making her pay the mortgage and titling the house under his name only. She can only attribute this due to her limited ability to speak English and her unfamiliarity with the New York legal system.

Now she and her son live in the basement of a friend's house. She has no savings or properties. Due to the pandemic, she lost her job and her son has difficulty in school as well. She doesn’t know where to find money for the renewal of both their greencards.  All these hardships during a time when she’s emotionally traumatized and overburdened. At the end of our conversation, I assisted her in identifying community resources that she can request help from and I also promised to help in her immigration paperwork.

Yola's story shows that not all American dreams are fulfilled. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but situations like this happen. However, immigrants are in a different class of their own. Lack of social support, inability to assimilate, lack of opportunities, unfamiliarity with the political and legal system, cultural differences, and other major factors are all challenges.

As we hear stories like this, we who haven’t faced such hardships are called upon to assist our fellow immigrants. We don’t have to be a major sacrifice. Simple things such as offering a drive to the supermarket, volunteering to babysit, teaching them simple English words and phrases, helping them fill out and translate any government paperwork, accompanying them to community resources --anything that we can do.

As what we are admonished to do, "whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it unto me.”

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