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"If I’m going to get a chance to return to the U.S. it should be for my kids."

Assia, 39, was incarcerated for actions she took during her youth under the coercive influence of an abusive ex-partner. She was separated from her infant daughter and gave birth to her son while incarcerated. In April 2021, Assia was the first immigrant survivor to be granted release under New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. But ICE detained her at the prison gates. Even though she had a pending appeal for relief from deportation, the U.S. government deported her to Panama. Assia is seeking a pardon from the New York governor so she can have a chance to come home and reunite with her children. Despite living in exile, Assia continues to serve as an immigrant justice and domestic violence advocate.

 

 

Rehabilitation and perseverance

Assia remained involved in her children’s lives throughout her incarceration. In prison, she worked as a translator, a caregiver for others who were pregnant, and a prenatal care instructor. She was one of the first women in New York to earn a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated, earning her degree in sociology in 2017. In 2021, Assia’s sentence was commuted under New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, a groundbreaking law designed to shorten the sentences of people whose convictions were influenced by domestic violence. Assia hoped and expected that she, like other survivors benefitting from the law, would finally be able to return home and reunite with her children.

Indefinite family separation

The U.S. immigration system devastatingly robbed Assia of her anticipated family reunion by deporting her with minimal notice following her release from criminal custody. Today, Assia struggles daily with the challenge of continued separation from her loved ones. As Assia’s children fight for a gubernatorial pardon and for the U.S. government to provide their mother a chance to come home, the separated family talks every day via FaceTime. Her daughter calls while cooking so that her mother can share family recipes. Neither child has been able to visit Panama since her deportation, and Assia does not know when they will see each other in person again.

Advocate, writer & leader

Assia is a passionate advocate for other survivors of domestic violence and immigrant women. She shares her story and experience to mentor other incarcerated mothers — guiding them on how to parent and support their children while in prison. She also advocates for more just criminal and immigration legal systems, using her lived experience to highlight injustice at their intersection. She has testified in the New York State Senate and has published her story in respected academic journals such as the City University of New York Law Review.

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Close-up photo of a woman named Assia, who is smiling at the camera. Her face is framed by curly brown hair, and she is wearing a bright blue shirt. The background is plain white.

 

“I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anything. Even though I was young when I committed my crime, and I was coerced by my kids’ father, I feel that my children deserve a chance to have their mom. I don’t feel entitled to anything, but because of my kids, I feel like they deserve to have their mom. They deserve to experience having me physically with them because they did nothing wrong to deserve this. They didn’t ask to be here, and they have been very patient. If I’m going to get a chance to return to the U.S. it should be for my kids.”

Assia is asking New York Governor Kathy Hochul to pardon her conviction so that she can fight her immigration case and have a chance to come home to reunite with her children.

Assia is represented by Nathan Yaffe and Sophia Gurulé at The Bronx Defenders.

Read Assia and Nathan's 2023 article published by City University of New York Law Review, "The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act and Criminalized Immigrant Survivors."

  • Deported to Panama in 2021 after 22 years in the U.S. 
  • Domestic violence survivor who served a criminal sentence for actions taken while under the coercion of her abuser  
  • Benefited from historic sentencing reform for survivors of domestic violence, but was nonetheless deported  
  • Lived in Queens, New York 
  • Separated from her son and daughter, and extended family

 

 

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Chance to Come Home: A Campaign to Reunite Families and Communities and End Unjust Deportations

Campaign home page

 

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