For decades, APALC has been committed to helping immigrant survivors of domestic violence – survivors like “Lynn,” a Vietnamese immigrant who was desperate to reunite with her two children.
Lynn emigrated from Vietnam to the United States in February 2011 with her abusive husband and their two children. Back in Vietnam, Lynn’s husband repeatedly abused her, including the time he cut her with a knife. Lynn still bears a scar as evidence.
But like so many survivors trapped in a cycle of violence, Lynn forgave her husband and hoped their move to the United States would offer renewal for her family.
The four of them moved in with her husband’s family in California. Unfortunately, soon after their arrival, her husband and in-laws began emotionally and psychologically abusing Lynn. They treated Lynn as a house servant, forcing her to work long hours cooking and cleaning for the large extended family of more than 20 people. When she protested, her husband and in-laws threatened to take away her kids.
Lynn’s husband and in-laws did not see her as family, but as someone to exploit for their benefit. About a month after her arrival in California, Lynn was forced to work at a nail salon shop—owned by her brother-in-law—in Minnesota, in order to pay off the “debt” she supposedly owed for bringing her children to the U.S. The in-laws promised Lynn she could speak to the children regularly while she worked long hours in Minnesota. Instead, the phone calls were monitored and Lynn could not speak freely to her own children, and eventually the in-laws prohibited the children and Lynn from speaking at all. Lynn realized she needed to escape. Desperate to be reunited with her children, Lynn contacted a distant uncle in Atlanta, who helped her flee from Minnesota to Georgia. From Georgia, Lynn, who doesn’t speak English, scoured Vietnamese American media for help and discovered APALC.
APALC attorneys advised Lynn of her legal rights but knew she would first need a safe place to stay in California. APALC referred her to a domestic violence shelter, the Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF) in Los Angeles County. CPAF took Lynn into a confidential shelter and began providing crucial social services, such as counseling.
APALC attorneys then successfully obtained emergency custody orders allowing Lynn to see her children for the first time in two months.
“As a new immigrant from Vietnam, with no English language skills, no income and no knowledge of her legal rights, Lynn needed the help of non-profit legal service providers, such as APALC, to provide legal and other assistance in a language she could understand,’’ said John C. Trang, an APALC staff attorney who advocated on Lynn’s behalf.
The story did not end there. Lynn’s husband then filed a false missing person’s report with police, claiming that Lynn voluntarily left the home without a trace. When the report was determined to be false, he then lied and accused Lynn of beating him, and said that Lynn willingly left her children to go to Minnesota.
After several court hearings and intense negotiations, Trang successfully won Lynn sole physical custody of her children. Through APALC’s advocacy, Lynn was able to sever her relationship with her abusive husband. Lynn got a divorce
, and is now raising her children at a safe distance from her ex-husband. Most importantly, through APALC’s client-centered lawyering, Lynn now fully understands her legal rights and has a renewed sense of empowerment that was previously lost due to years of abuse.
“I was an immigrant who didn’t speak English and had nowhere to turn,” Lynn said. “I felt hopeless. So I am very thankful APALC was able to help me leave my husband
. Now my children and I can concentrate on rebuilding our lives.”