Last week Astrid Ordonez and I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Tristan Takos, Constituent Service Director for Senator Ed Markey and Mr. Gilbert Calderin, Immigration Caseworker for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
This past June Astrid had an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras to apply for a F-1 (student) visa. Unfortunately, her application was denied and the opportunity to attend the prestigious Fay School in Southborough, MA was in peril. Astrid had successfully passed the TOEFL and SSAT exams, completed her interview and written application, been accepted and granted a large financial scholarship, and had received the additional financial commitment to offset her tuition costs. The thought of her losing this opportunity and crushing her dreams for a brighter future was heartbreaking.
Esperanza-Hope for the Children, Inc. had successfully obtained B1/B2 (medical visas) for several patients but this was the first time we were involved with a student visa. There was no time to waste with school starting in 10 weeks and so I immersed myself in the political process and began networking in the Boston area and Honduras. After contacting the Visa Chief in Tegucigalpa he agreed to have the same Office Consular conduct a phone interview with both Astrid and her mother. Once again, Astrid’s application was denied under Section 214 (b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.
Many people took interest and became involved with Astrid’s journey as we solicited the U.S. Embassy to learn what additional documentation was needed to obtain approval. Our friends, Heidi Black reached out to Senator Markey’s office and Bob Burbidge contacted Senator Warren and Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s offices. My college classmate Kate Brandeis, a former U.S. Officer Consular, advised and enlightened me about the application process.
All perspective students must demonstrate their strong ties oversees and that they will return to their foreign countries, but this would prove more challenging for Astrid. Unlike her other perspective classmates who would be returning to their wealthy homes, Astrid would be returning to the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. As she was in the midst of applying, thousands of Hondurans were fleeing violence and corruption and attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. The daily news was filled with images of families being separated at the Mexican border.
My frustration built as I struggled with all the obstacles and set backs of helping someone apply legally. Not only was I thinking of Astrid, I thought of all the others who were desperately in need of assistance, many fleeing violence or starvation without the support of somebody advocating for them.
Fortunately, Astrid received another appointment at the U.S. Embassy on July 16, 2018. In preparation for the appointment, Tristan Takos communicated with Gil Calderin and Ms. Katie Worley, Constituent Services Representative and Immigration Coordinator for Congresswoman Katherine Clark. They all felt Astrid had a compelling story and decided to take the unusual approach to write a joint letter of support. Rick Lania coordinated the additional letters from Esperanza, Fay School, Charles Morrison (financial supporter), and Shriner’s Hospital for Children. In addition, he provided legal and school documentation and compelling photos of Astrid’s ties to her family and community.
Thankfully, persistence paid off and Astrid was granted a student visa and has now settled in smoothly at Fay School. I reflect on Fay’s application essay about everyone experiencing obstacles in life, facing challenges, and explaining what you learned. Astrid described her physical challenges and said, “I have not let this obstacle stop me and I won’t let other ones either.” Now she has first hand knowledge of the obstacles immigrants endure and it will be interesting to watch her put those experiences into action.
It was an emotional experience meeting Tristan and Gil and listening to Astrid describe how her life has been changed and her mother “doesn’t have to worry about her safety now that she is here.” She proudly pinned them with flags of the U.S. and Honduras. Our hope is for other children to have this same opportunity.