Martha Gains Asylum in the U.S.

Martha was a political activist who was persecuted by the Zimbabwean government and the majority party, the ZANU-PF, for her activism and engagement in peaceful political activities. Her home was burned down, and she and various members of her family were physically assaulted and tortured. In 2014, she traveled to the U.S. for her education and when she returned she was questioned by the ZANU-PF about her reasons for visiting the U.S. and sexually assaulted by several ZANU-PF members. She was able to come to the U.S for a school graduation and did not leave the U.S. after learning that her husband had been threatened by the SANU-PF and told that if she returned, they would kill her.

Martha came to HRI in late 2015 for help with asylum case. Due to huge backlogs in the system, after an asylum case was filed, it then took around 2-3 years for the case to be scheduled for an interview. However, after arriving in the U.S., Martha found out that she had urgent medical issues which she needed to address, and her pro bono attorney advocated for her asylum case to be expedited in late 2016.

In addition, her children were being greatly affected by the draught in Zimbabwe and lost their main caretaker when she passed away after Martha left. Martha was distraught at being separated from her children and suffered from depression for much of the time we assisted her. We were grateful for the hard work of her pro bono attorney who crafted a compelling request for her case to be expedited, which the government approved.

Martha’s asylum interview was held in 2017, and she found out she had been granted asylum a few weeks later! Once Martha’s case was approved, HRI’s asylum program immediately filed relative petitions so that her husband and children could join her in the United States.

Matha’s pro bono attorney also assisted HRI’s asylum program with successfully requesting that these petitions be expedited as well.

We are thrilled to say that by the end of 2017, Martha was reunited with her family! There were many tears of joy in our office upon seeing Martha and her family finally together again living safely in the United States and we are tremendously excited to see what the future holds for all of them.

– Zainab Ellis, HRI’s Social Services Director

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

As today is the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, HRI staff members think of the clients we have served over the years who have been victims of Female Genital Mutilation. Female Genital Mutilation “comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.”

One of HRI’s former clients, Leyla, is a 40-year old woman originally from Sudan. As a young girl, she was forced to undergo Type 4 female genital mutilation (FGM). This is one of the most extreme forms of FGM. She was only 9 years old.

Years later, after marrying her husband, Leyla had two sons and two daughters. Childbirth was a very painful experience for her and resulted in many infections and hospitalizations. Because of the immense pain that Leyla experienced due to her FGM, she always imagined that her husband would be opposed to the practice for their daughters. Unfortunately, she was horrified to find out that this was not the case. One day, while on a family trip back to Sudan, Leyla’s husband asked when it would be best to have their daughters circumcised.

Leyla and her family lived in the United Arab Emirates at the time. During a family vacation to the U.S., Leyla, her husband, and their four children visited Niagara Falls and during the trip, Leyla’s husband once again insisted that failing to circumcise their daughters would lead to promiscuity.

Leyla refused to return to the U.A.E. with her husband at the end of the family vacation, fearing that he would surely force their daughters to be circumcised. A year later, Leyla’s husband returned to the U.S. with a new wife and attempted to take their children so that the girls could be circumcised in Sudan. It was only after threatening to call the police that Leyla’s husband left.

Leyla and her children have now received their green cards. Thanks to our many supporters, DASH Network, and our pro bono attorneys, Leyla and her children have a home, are safe, and are thriving here in the U.S.

While FGM is illegal in the U.S., more and more women who are victims of FGM are emigrating to the U.S. where they have to deal with the lasting repercussions of their genital cutting and doctors, friends, and lovers who may know very little about this practice.

Please take today to learn more about the issues surrounding FGM for millions of women around the world, and hopefully, someday we together will be able to finally #EndFGM.

For more resources on FGM, please see the links below:


A Farewell to Camille Kulas

HRI will be saying farewell to our social services intern, Camille Kulas, after a summer-long internship.

A native of Lille, France, Camille received her undergraduate degree in Economics and Management and her master’s degree in Political Science: International Solidarity, Humanitarian Action, and Crisis which made her a unique and perfect fit for HRI.

Elisandra de la Cruz, Casework and Administrative Assistant at HRI worked closely with Camille throughout the summer and explained, “Camille did extensive work focusing and supporting our newly arrived immigrants seeking asylum in our social service department. Whether she was meeting with clients one on one and conducting intakes to assess needs or working with agencies around the DFW area to build a solid referral system for our clients, she always put her heart into her work.

During her time here, she also worked conducting research on the best practices to interview victims of crime and abuse. This prepared her to be able to successfully understand the difficulties immigrants face in Texas and the best way to support them in our social services department. Her diligence, compassion and dedication towards helping our most vulnerable made Camille a perfect fit not only for our social service department, but our agency as a whole.”

Camille said that the driving force in interning with our organization was because, “I wanted to get a taste of how human rights work, and reading about HRI really made me consider it, as it helps a lot of people from different backgrounds—and not only for asylum. I thought it would be really interesting and a good place to learn about the differences in law regarding immigration between the US and France, and it turned out that it was. This internship was a great way to really get an idea of how things are in reality and to really be able to help people get settled into their new lives in the US.”

One of the ‘aha-moments’ Camille said that she experienced during her time at HRI was regarding the asylum system and, “how the government does not help asylum seekers at all, not even to have housing, how long the process can be, and learning that withholding of removal did provide some relief to an asylum seeker, but that they would not be allowed to travel outside of the US.”

She also learned, “How tricky immigration laws can be, but mainly that even though people escaping violence and bad situations can be extremely resourceful, there is a total lack of awareness on how to navigate the American system and that they do need our help to get access to resources and get acclimated to this new country, which is one of the reasons that HRI is so effective in helping survivors of human rights abuses.”

Beyond the technical side of her internship, Camille really enjoyed the personal connections she made as a social services intern: “One of my favorite memories with HRI was seeing one of our clients get settled into her new transitional home with her two small boys and being overjoyed by what the agency is doing. The work that was done and the struggles during this search for housing were definitely worth it when we saw the smiles on their faces.”

Though we are sad to see Camille go, we are certain that she will do amazing things in her life and we hope that our paths will cross again in the future. Until then, we wish her all the best!