Clara Blanco-Herrada: A Survivor’s Guide to Citizenship

IIBA client Clara Blanco-Herrada embodies the phrase, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” With the devaluation of the Mexican peso, in the mid-1990s, Clara’s life turned upside down. Her family lost their business and property in the recession, so they immigrated to the U.S., in search of new opportunities. Despite the upheaval, Clara, sixteen years old at the time, held tight to her lifelong dream: to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, a psychologist in Mexico.

She had no idea the obstacles she would face on her way to that goal.

Upon arriving in the U.S., Clara enrolled in her first English classes, soon passed her GED, and began taking college classes. Around the same time, she met and married the father of her children. During their tumultuous nine-year marriage, Clara says, “My ex-husband tried to control my life and even burned my school books when he found out I was enrolled in community college.”

Yet Clara persisted. Though employment opportunities were limited by her legal status, Clara needed to earn an income of her own. So she borrowed $1000. “I invested the loan in flowers that I sold on Valentine’s Day. I was able to sell all the flowers and turn that $1,000 into $10,000.” Clara’s business venture grew into a party supply store which would fund her college tuition and schooling for her children.

As Clara’s studies advanced, she began to build the emotional resources she needed to leave her husband. And then the unthinkable happened. Clara’s baby boy died of sudden infant death syndrome. “I was really depressed,” she recalls. “I almost gave up. I dropped all my classes. But then, four days after my son’s funeral, I woke up and said, ‘this is it.’” Clara took a leap. “You have two options,” she says, “you either give up, or you bounce back. I chose to do the latter.” Clara left her husband.

Many clients find IIBA after a long search for legal assistance, but Clara found IIBA by a stroke of luck. And the timing couldn’t have been better.

A friend asked Clara to serve as a translator for her meeting at IIBA’s Redwood City office. There, Clara recalls, “An IIBA staff member described the U Visa, a visa granted to undocumented immigrants who have been victims of a crime in the U.S. and have reported the crime to law enforcement. When I heard about the U Visa,” Clara says, “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. They’re talking about me.’”

Ultimately the U Visa that IIBA helped Clara apply for would grant her work authorization, a social security card, and the ability to become a legal permanent resident.

As she waited to become a legal permanent resident, Clara earned her AA degree from San Francisco City College, a BA degree in psychology from San Francisco State University, and acceptance into Notre Dame De Namur University’s Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology program.

Adjusting her legal status gave Clara access to new employment, funding, and internship opportunities, all of which supported her advancement toward her career goal. But becoming a legal permanent resident was not enough for Clara. She was as determined to become a U.S. citizen as she was to become a psychologist.

Clara expresses her gratitude to the many community resource centers that helped her arrive where she is today: a U.S. citizen and a MFT intern, on her way to becoming a licensed therapist. Now Clara pays it forward, providing trauma counseling for her clients, and referring those in need of immigration legal services to IIBA.

“Each milestone mark in my journey to become a U.S. citizen was aided by the help of IIBA,” says Clara. “I am appreciative of their services and staff who helped me and are now helping my parents become full-fledged members of this country.”

Thanks to supporters like you, IIBA provides essential legal and educational services to clients like Clara. Please consider making a donation this year, to ensure all people have access to the immigration services they need.

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