I grew up in a Baptist family in Russia. My life was not easy because of my faith (Russia is predominantly Orthodox Christian and my Baptist church is considered a “cult” there). I worked as a school teacher, and one day I lost my job, and could not get a new one. Of course, the school principal didn’t tell me that it was because of my faith. Various other reasons were found, but it was clear to me that I was punished because of my religion.
Things were not easy for other members of my family. My uncle and my cousin, who were also Baptists, were on their way home from preaching, discussing the Bible. They were beaten to death. I moved to another city, but that did not help. I was eventually beaten as well, but not so badly, probably because I’m a woman.
The good thing is that I was able to get am American tourist visa and fled. At that time my daughter was already grown-up, and my husband and she gave up their faith and stopped coming to church because of all the threats. They decided not to go with me. I “lost” them to Russian.
But here in the States, I ran into lots of difficulties. I did not speak English, I had a hard time finding a job, filling out my application for asylum. However, I have never had any problems with my religious views and I have always felt free to follow my faith.
My asylum case did not go well. The paralegal who helped me did not inform me about the interview. Since I did not show up, I was denied. My work permit also expired, so I was not allowed to work legally.
I hired an immigration lawyer, but he mishandled my case and tried to extort money from me. Fortunately, I fired him and found Marina Shepelsky, with whom we clicked right away. She could explain everything to me so that I could understand how asylum and court work. .I was on the verge of despair, had no energy left in me. However, Marina convinced me to continue fighting.
Marina asked my previous lawyer for the documents from my case, but she refused unless I pay up. Marina did not give up and received all the documents from my case through the court. Then I had to postpone the trial, as the new prosecutor Jeff Sessions introduced new regulations that greatly complicated my defense. It turned out that the fact that some strangers beat me was not enough to grant me asylum (it used to be enough!). I should have been beaten by police for me to be a real “refugee”! But I wouldn’t lie. We had to look for a new strategy.
When the trial date came, I had a nervous breakdown. I cried, I was scared and could not come. The judge was very upset, Marina took a hit on herself/ She told me to seek medical help and bring a note from the doctor about my condition.
The judge forgave that I did not show up the first time, and I won my asylum case in court. It was such an emotional moment when the judge told me that she grants me refugee status. She said, “Welcome to America!” I cried and I was very glad and very grateful to Marina and the judge.