To help more women like me: Linh’s story

A Human Trafficking & Domestic Abuse Victim finds Freedom

She had met women from the shelter like Linh before. They enter a room with hesitant steps, their eyes fixated on the floor, the faces shadowed with fear. Linh’s shoulders were hunched and wary, as if her whole being was braced for the next blow that life had taught her would be coming, sooner or later.

But Linh, thought Mindy Rush Chipman, Senior Managing Attorney for Immigrant Legal Center (ILC) (formerly JFON Nebraska) stood out from the other women from the shelter in one particular way.

Linh’s head was completely shorn of hair.

There were other people in the clinic that day. Linh seemed to feel their curious gazes. Self-consciously, as from a long-practiced habit, she raised her hand to smooth the dark stubble on her head.

This was only an initial consultation, but Mindy already knew she was going to take Linh’s case. Turning to the volunteer interpreter, she slowly and carefully learned Linh’s story.

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Phuc and his parents traveled from the U.S. to the old country—Vietnam, in this case—to find him a bride. He needed someone to take care of him; someone who was poor and desperate; someone who wouldn’t ask questions or make demands. Someone they could control.

“I thought I would have a happy life in America,” Linh told Mindy sadly.

Photo credit: Sarah Ackerman

Once the family was back in their small Nebraska town, her in-laws immediately put her to work in their nail salon. She worked long hours every day, under unsafe conditions, and with no compensation.  When she shared her story with a co-worker, reprisals were swift and brutal.

“My sister-in-law and my husband hit me a lot,” she told Mindy. “They said they would kill me if I ever talked to anyone again. From that day, I was so scared of everybody around me. “

Far worse than the abuse she suffered in her workplace was the extreme violence she suffered at the hands of her husband at home. It did not take long for Linh to realize she wasn’t just dealing with a man prone to fits of temper; Phuc was seriously and dangerously mentally ill. He had medication for his condition, but he often refused to take it. His parents were no help whatsoever; they were full-fledged enablers of their son’s torture of his new wife.

He beat Linh regularly, the violence of each beating feeding, instead of assuaging, his rage. He was particularly fond of pressing a knife to her throat while he raped her. He also liked to pull her hair so hard that thick bunches came out in his hands.

So Linh shaved her head. It was one less way he could hurt her.

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Linh, Mindy explains, entered the U.S. with the conditional residency given to foreign spouses of U.S. citizens who have been married less than two years. Conditional residency was designed to deter people who enter fake marriages to evade U.S. immigration laws. Spouses who are still married after two years must file a petition to remove the conditions. It is not an overly complicated form, but Phuc refused to comply.

Mindy Rush Chipman, Senior Managing Attorney for Immigrant Legal Center (ILC)

“This resulted in the termination of Linh’s conditional residency, put her at risk of being placed into removal proceedings, and left Linh without current work authorization, or valid identification” says Mindy. “Her husband wanted to control every aspect of her life, including her immigration status.”

“They told me many times that I was illegal,” Linh adds. “I felt like an illegal person, and I had no one to help me.”

Phuc and his family were master manipulators; they successfully isolated Linh, closing every avenue of relief and escape. Finally, after three years of savage beatings and sexual violence, Linh reached a decision:

“I have to be free of them,” she said. “Even if I have to kill myself, I have to be free.”

Linh fled to a shelter for battered women. They helped her report her abuse to law enforcement and referred her to JFON Nebraska.

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Mindy listened to Linh’s story, taking copious notes and planning out Linh’s case in her head. She reassured Linh that she would begin working on her immigration case immediately. However, knowing Linh did not have access to an interpreter at the shelter, she asked, “What else can we help you with now?”

“To thank you,” answered Linh straightaway. “To thank you. And thank you to the people at the shelter.” She raised her eyes to look at her interpreter and then at Mindy. “Thank you all so much for helping me.”

“All she needed at that moment, all she wanted, before we had even done anything, was to say ‘thank you,’” remembers Mindy, shaking her head.

“It was at that point that I could not hold back my tears.”

Mindy first helped Linh obtain an I.D. and work authorization, and then permanent residency. “By demonstrating the abuse Linh had endured at the hands of her husband and his family,” says Mindy, “we were ultimately able to get the conditions of her residency removed.”

As a lawful permanent resident, Linh was able to get a new job in a new town. She moved into her own apartment. She got a divorce. But she wasn’t done saying ‘thank you.’

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The first donation to JFON was for $400. “So you can help more women like me,” Linh wrote. Then, at Christmas, another check arrived, for a whopping $1,000.

“I’m sorry, it’s not so much,” Linh wrote. “Please use this to help more people the way you unconditionally helped me.”

“I also want to say thank you to all the people who have donated money to JFON,” she continued, “so that they had funds to help me and other people like me. Thank them all very much.”

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A few months ago, Linh became a U.S. citizen.

Gone is the silent, fearful, isolated Linh; today she is a confident and newly-independent woman. Linh’s hair has grown long again, and is fashionably styled. She walks into a room with purpose, back straight, shoulders squared.

“She smiles,” says Mindy with a twinge of wonder. “She smiles and makes eye contact with everyone around her.

“Linh was one of my first cases with JFON Nebraska,” continues Mindy, “and she’s been with me ever since. You know, it’s a given that immigration cases take a long time, but to go from basically undocumented abuse victim to U.S. citizenship in three years…” Mindy shakes her head. “That is really amazing. Linh is amazing.

“All these years, I’ve wanted her to have that happy life in America she dreamed of,” Mindy adds simply. “And now she can.”