Story #23

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Maria R. – A 23-hour bus ride and
her faith saved her life

BronxWorks Immigration Services

It was her unwavering faith that brought Maria* to where she is today: thousands of miles from the poverty of Nicaragua and hundreds of miles from an abusive spouse.

She grew up in Nicaragua, earned a bachelor’s degree in education, married, and had a son, Carlos.*  Everything in her life was coming together until they moved to Florida in 2005 and she had to leave behind her older son, Rafael* (from a previous relationship) and her mother.  Over time, the marriage drastically deteriorated for reasons Maria cannot explain.  Her husband became physically and emotionally abusive, and when he threatened to kill her and her son, a judge suggested that in addition to the order of protection, she should move as far away as possible to ensure their safety.

In 2010, she took that advice, along with her firm belief that “God would be with me anywhere I went,” and gathered together a few belongings and her 5-year-old son.  With only a vague promise that a “friend of a friend” would meet them, Maria and Carlos boarded a bus and 23 hours later arrived at Penn Station in the heart of Manhattan.  The friend picked them up and dropped them off at an abandoned apartment in Queens.  When she learned about 311 from neighbors, she called for help and was directed to PATH, the city’s placement service for homeless individuals and families.

After a couple of temporary housing placements, Maria and Carlos ended up in a Brooklyn family shelter.  She found a job as a medical assistant just a few minutes away from the shelter and her son attended a nearby school.  They stayed there for one year while Maria scrimped and saved for her own apartment.

It was during a stay at one of the temporary facilities that she overheard another person talking about BronxWorks and how great it had been to work with immigration specialist Josie Vasquez.  Maria believes she was destined to overhear this conversation because acquiring citizenship was her next goal toward rebuilding her life.  She contacted and met with Josie who walked Maria through the steps toward naturalization, coaching her on the civics and history exam and ensuring she had a solid understanding of the information.  Their hard work paid off when Maria became a US citizen on June 27th, 2011.

The good news for Maria does not end there.  She moved into her first apartment in 2011, just in time for Christmas.  Her oldest son, Rafael arrived in the US in August – on her birthday – and thanks to Maria’s citizenship status, he entered with permanent residency and immediately became a citizen.  Her next goal is to bring her mother to the US so she can become a citizen also.

Maria says the day she became a US citizen was “my greatest achievement” and she couldn’t have done it without the support of BronxWorks. This accomplishment enabled her to maintain her employment and housing, as well as begin to bring together in her new country the family she left behind.  Her life was falling apart but she is now rebuilding her future thanks to the friends and partners who make our work possible.

*Due to the involvement of domestic violence, the names have been changed.

BronxWorks’ immigration services office has an attorney and immigration specialists dedicated to providing foreign-born people a comprehensive scope of services, including help with filing and processing Immigrant Visa Applications; renewing Employment Authorization Cards, Green Cards, and Temporary Protected Status; English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and civics classes; and counseling on resources for housing, financial, and health needs.  Questions or comments? Send them to

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