A Brave Woman Finds Freedom in Citizenship

The following story was shared by Michelle Tran, a Case Manager at Boat People SOS, one of our Houston NAC partners. Kim’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.

When Michelle first met Kim, the shy, distressed woman had waited for five hours in the waiting room of Boat People SOS, a Houston-based partner organization of the New Americans Campaign. Kim shared her heartbreaking story.

She had come with her husband to the United States with green cards from Vietnam 22 years ago. She spoke little English and knew no one. Together they had three children. But her experience in America wasn’t a happy one.

For 22 years, Kim survived continuous physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband. Together they ran a small convenience store in a poor, dangerous neighborhood of Houston. Her husband forced Kim to stay at the store at all times. She slept there on two folding chairs at night, while her three children slept on one mattress in the living room of the family’s small condominium. Once a week her husband would pick her up to bring her to the condo to let her shower.

Kim’s husband controlled everything; any time he saw Kim, he would check her pockets to make sure she wasn’t hiding or saving any money. He kept all of her documents and her green card hidden. When she tried to fight back, he would threaten to send her back to Vietnam and would tell her, “You are nothing. You are just an immigrant.”

After years of abuse, one day Kim’s husband was angry that the store had not earned more money and threatened her life with a gun. Their 16-year-old son stepped up and begged, “Please dad. Don’t hurt mom.”

The husband became infuriated and started to hit the child. Kim stood up for her son and screamed, saying she would call the police, prompting her husband to leave.  He did not return all night.

The next morning Kim called a taxi driver who spoke Vietnamese. She had no idea where to go. The cab driver had heard of Boat People SOS and brought Kim to their office.  She waited there for five hours before meeting Michelle, whom Kim greeted with a big hug of relief.

Brave Woman Prevails, by dekcuf on Flickr

With Michelle’s help, Kim was able to file a protective order against her husband and file for divorce. Then, Michelle worked with Kim step-by-step to help her achieve citizenship. On the day she became a citizen, Kim was filled with joy. As a full-fledged American she felt she had many more options and soon found a job at a bakery. Now Michelle is helping her get a driver’s license. For Kim, full American citizenship has truly meant freedom.

Michelle stresses that Kim’s story demonstrates the value and importance of citizenship to women who are survivors of violence. “By becoming a citizen, they get rights they never imagined before. It helps their confidence and gives them strength.”


Posted on June 18, 2013

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
Learn more from our
Impact Report.

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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More