Originally from the Philippines, 44-year-old Myrna Niez came to New York in 2010 to marry the love of her life. Myrna’s first husband had died of cancer, leaving her on her own with their four young sons. She was devastated to lose him, but knew she wanted to move forward with her and her sons’ lives and share love again. To support her children, Myrna was forced to find work in Malaysia while her sons stayed with their Dad’s sister in the Philippines.
Myrna met Bob, an American citizen living in New York, on an online dating site in 2007. After years of affectionate and loving courtship with visits by Bob to Myrna’s Malaysian community, where he was introduced to her friends and church, they decided to get married in the US. When Myrna arrived in Bob’s home, she wanted to do everything possible to be a good wife: to cook the foods he liked, to support him at his job, and to share a new life together. She dreamed of merging her family with Bob’s.
But in America, Bob changed. He yelled at Myrna for no reason and made her clean, cook and work endlessly in the apartment. Bob told her the apartment they lived in was his. He didn’t give her keys to their apartment or to the building. So, on the limited occasions when she left the apartment, she would return and be forced to stand outside, locked out of her own home for hours at a time, often in the bitter cold of winter. If she had the good fortune of being let into the building’s lobby by a neighbor, she’d return to the apartment only to find that Bob had put a chain lock on the apartment door. She’d wait for hours in the hallway or the laundry room, often cold, hungry and without access to the bathroom.
Myrna had no one to talk to. Bob would yell at her for speaking to her sons in the Philippines. He insisted she be home all the time so she was unable to work and earn her own money. Here was the man who was supposed to love and support her – and he made her walk behind him as if she were his nurse, not his wife. Eventually Bob told Myrna he would pay someone to kill her, AND she believed him – fearing that without a family support system – no one would notice her disappearance. Myrna was paralyzed with fear.
By the time Myrna met her pro bono attorney, Kate Powers, assigned to the case by the team at Her Justice, Bob had punched her in the face so hard that she had to be hospitalized. In fact, it was the social worker in the hospital emergency room who told Myrna about Her Justice and the free legal services she could access to help her remove herself from her abusive circumstances.
Myrna feared that if she stayed, Bob would actually kill her. She found the strength to leave Bob, and sought refuge on a couch of a friend from her church.
After Her Justice placed Myrna’s case with law firm Akin Gump, Kate Powers, then a first-year associate, worked on filing Myrna’s application for immigration status through the Violence Against Women Act. This particular status would enable Myrna to work legally in the United States, bring her children to join her, and build some part of the new life she’d dreamed of having.
Kate and her colleagues at Akin Gump worked together for over two years on Myrna’s application. They had to show that Myrna and Bob married in good faith, but that she was later abused by him. During this time, Myrna lived on friends’ couches and worked on and off as a home health aide. Her life was hard, but underneath everything, there was real strength in Myrna. She was proud of herself for having gotten away from Bob.
Finally the Akin team obtained legal status for Myrna – it was a huge victory! Kate’s next project was to bring Myrna’s four sons to the United States. For over two years, Kate worked closely with Her Justice immigration attorney, Esther Limb on getting Myrna’s sons’ visas. During the same time, her colleagues at Akin helped Myrna obtain a divorce from Bob.
Getting a divorce can be extremely important for Her Justice clients, as it is often the last legal tie binding them to the husbands who had turned on them. It was no different for Myrna. When she started divorce proceedings, Myrna was already the stronger, happier more confident version of herself – because she had been separated from her husband for years. Like many of Her Justice clients, Myrna wanted a completely fresh start on her own terms, so she needed a divorce to be mentally, legally and financially free from him, to get her own name back.
According to Kate, her pro bono attorney, Myrna’s transformation was a wonderful thing to watch. Kate met her when she was terrified and at an all-time low – today she is truly a changed woman. After nearly five years, Myrna has a green card, a job and an apartment. She is free of her abuser. And just this past February, Kate helped unite her four children with their mom: Jhon is preparing to join the Navy, Mark is getting certified to be security guard, and Troyd and Stanlhy are finishing high school.
Myrna Niez, domestic abuse survivor, and Her Justice client:
“Bob was only the second boyfriend I had ever had and the first was my husband. I loved Bob and thought he loved me. He was supposed to lift me up and support me to grow. But instead he kicked me to the curb like a dog.”
“I was so scared. I had no idea about the law, no friends, and no connections. It was all so very frightening and so painful. I was always crying, always crying and so fearful for my life.”
“I have no idea what would have happened to me without the legal help I received. Maybe I would be sleeping in the street. I don’t know how I could have gone on.”
“I am stable now with a green card. I am so happy to be with my children. I am so grateful to my entire legal team – I became a strong person and my life is changed forever.”
Kate Powers, Associate, Akin Gump
“Working with Myrna has made me a better lawyer, and instilled in me a strong commitment to pro bono work. Seeing how Myrna has been helped so much by the firm, Her Justice, and the legal system, inevitably confirms what many of us do.”
“But truthfully, when I started working on immigration cases in 2012, I had no idea how important this work would be today, in 2017. My clients like Myrna have really taken on a new meaning in the current climate. I am proud to work on pro bono cases that ensure that New York City and our country welcome people like Myrna who need our help and who will positively contribute to our communities.”