Mary* arrived in the U.S. nine years ago. Her home country in Central Africa has struggled with instability for years. Mary decided to flee in search of safety for her children. When she arrived on U.S. soil, she immediately applied for asylum. As she waited for a verdict, she attended school for information technology and gained employment in the field. Three years later, her asylum was denied. Denial of an asylum application is not uncommon. Although many families and individuals have just reasons for not returning to their homes, a majority of applications in the U.S. are denied. Asylum claims, never easy to win, are becoming more difficult. In 2018, for example, only 35 percent of asylum claims were approved after six straight years of declining approval rates. In 2021, 37 percent of asylum claims were approved. Asylum claims can be denied simply by missing a deadline, failing to complete the application correctly, or misunderstanding interview questions due to one’s inability to hire an interpreter.
Unfortunately, once asylum is denied, one also is denied the authorization to continue working in the United States. This is where Mary’s story took a turn for the worst.
For Mary, not being able to work meant she could not provide for herself or her children. Mary’s financial situation was bleak, and she had no family to turn to for help. As a single mother, Mary considered prostitution to take care of her children seeing no other way to care for her family. She went without food in order to feed her children and worried each month about finding enough money to pay her rent. She spent many nights lying awake not knowing what tomorrow would bring.
Mary persevered and was eventually able to regain work authorization as she awaited her asylum appeal, but she was unable to find employment in the IT sector. Because her future is unknown, she experiences symptoms of depression and anxiety, and has been diagnosed with high blood pressure. She’s shared, “I have had thoughts at times that I do not want to be here.”
Recently, Mary participated in a counseling session with an LSSNCA clinical therapist through the CARE for Newcomers Program, a program that helps individuals like Mary connect to needed services as they await asylum decisions. The clinical therapist used solution-focused therapy to help reduce Mary’s stressors. At the beginning of the second session the clinician noticed a significant change in Mary’s energy. Mary shared that just the one session had changed her outlook. It was helpful to know that “someone was caring; someone was trying to help and give me a different perspective.” She was “very grateful” to have someone help her address the stressors that were weighing heavily on her. Mary continues to await her asylum decision and is hopeful she will be able to fulfill her IT career goals with the support of LSSNCA.