Tania S.

Tania crowned as 2013 Miss Hispanic Seafair

I’ve always felt like I was an American. But as an undocumented person, society doesn’t see me that way. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project taught me that there is a network of people who care for immigrants – people like you. People like Amanda Irwin, the NWIRP advocate who took my family’s case and fought for rights and opportunities we didn’t know we had.

You helped change my life, and I want to tell you how.I was born into inner-city poverty in Mexico. When I was four, my parents took my sister and me to the U.S. to find a better life. 

Once we got to the U.S., my father became controlling and abusive.My mom wanted to learn English, but when she came home five minutes late from the first class, my father never allowed her to go again. He didn’t allow my mom to leave home.He kept her isolated. Over time, the violence escalated. 

One night, my sister and I woke up to my mom screaming; my father was dragging her down the stairs by her hair.We wanted to go to the cops, but my father would threaten my mom, “You’re just a woman, you can’t survive without me. And if you call the cops – they won’t deport just me. They will deport all of us.” 

Eventually, out of utter desperation, we decided to risk going to the cops to file a police report. They referred us to Consejo Counseling and Referral Services for help filing a restraining order against my father. During this time, we were also told that we could get help from NWIRP. 

At NWIRP, we met Amanda Irwin. She told us that as a victim of domestic violence, my mom could file for a U-Visa and include my sister and me. Once our U-Visa was approved, we would receive work authorization and eventually be able to apply for our permanent residency. My mom was hesitant – she didn’t know what might happen if she got denied. But Amanda talked her through her options and encouraged her that she would be safe to apply. 

When my mom’s U-Visa was accepted, she cried of happiness and relief. She realized that she no longer had to worry about deportation. She didn’t have to live in fear because she finally had status.She could be valued as a human being. That was what NWIRP did for her. 

Because of your support to NWIRP we learned we had rights we had no idea we had. 

A lot has changed in my life, because of your support of NWIRP. 

This year, I was crowned Miss Hispanic Seafair and moved forward to the Miss Seafair competition – the first undocumented woman to do so. For my talent and community service platform, I shared stories of undocumented students in WA State, including my own story. Some people were uncomfortable with me talking about immigration, but I think it’s important to highlight your experiences. If I’m not going to tell them, who will? We need to make room for the conversation. We need to challenge our community to see beyond immigration status. 

Before receiving status through the U-Visa, I also applied for “deferred action” – the new policy that allows undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to apply for social security cards and work visas. I encourage other young people to do it too. I was co-founder of the Washington State Dream Act. I raised money at taco trucks to go to Washington DC to meet with representatives and talk about the importance of the deferred action program. 

Now I’m in my last year at the University of Washington, and I’m working as a paralegal for an immigration attorney. I get to help young people fill out their deferred action applications, and I even get to help with U-Visas. I’m planning to become an immigration attorney. 

I have turned into an outspoken immigrant advocate because NWIRP taught me to advocate for myself. NWIRP showed me that there is a community who values immigrant rights and strives for greater justice for all. You are a part of this community. Thank you. 

We came to Amanda as complete strangers with little hope. Amanda advocated for my family and encouraged us. She and NWIRP did everything in their power to help my family. 

My family supports NWIRP now because we know first-hand the difference that having legal help makes and we want others to have the same opportunity.

When you support NWIRP, you change lives. Support this work. Donate online today. 

Mari B.

NWIRP Advocate, DREAMer and Pre-Med Student

Mari and Adriana

NWIRP changed my life, and I want to tell you how.

I remember how I heard about it. I just happened to be flashing through the television channels and saw President Obama speaking. I was so excited! Could this be real?

On June 15, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program - a major change in immigration policy that could affect as many as 40,000 youth in Washington State. This policy gives certain undocumented youth (known as DREAMers) temporary protection against deportation for two years, as well as a work permit for that time.

I called Jorge Barón, NWIRP’s director.  He said, “This is important news but there is nothing to file yet; keep studying, work hard, and email me back later. You and your sister could qualify for this!”

But then eventually there was something to file. NWIRP helped me through the entire process, and my life changed forever.

It is because of support from NWIRP’s community of donors that the first workshops and legal clinics were made possible. Because of their support, my sister and I received the legal assistance we needed and now:

  1. We now have work permits, enabling us to both work and pursue our degrees!
  2. We don’t have to be afraid of being deported!
NWIRP made a huge difference for us. Today I ask you to join this community of donors and give someone else the same chance at success that I now have.

Let me tell you more:  Until this new deferred action program, there was nothing my family could do about being undocumented. It hasn’t been easy. Neither my younger sister Adriana nor I could be employed because we didn’t have papers. And when you don’t have access to a secure a job, and have no idea when or if you’ll ever have papers, sometimes dreaming seems futile.

Mari job shadowed a surgeon as part of a school project

But ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of earning a medical degree and becoming a doctor. To pursue this dream, I enrolled at the University of Washington, spending 4 hours a day on the bus commuting because I lived at home to save money. I was thrilled to earn a local scholarship for the first quarter, but then I had to withdraw; I just couldn’t afford to keep going.

I then found a job as a nanny – for 12 children. I worked for that family for one year for 10 - 12 hours a day. It was very challenging, but I was able to pay my living expenses while also putting money away for school. After a year I enrolled at Green River Community College to pick up where I’d left off at UW.I attended GRCC for one year before I had to withdraw again because I couldn’t afford it. This is part of what I told GRCC in my withdrawal letter:

“I am an undocumented student. Since I graduated from high school I have been fighting to persevere in continuing my education. My long term goal is to become a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon. Unable to obtain financial aid, loans, or even a legitimate job, financing my education has been my biggest obstacle. It breaks my heart to have come to this decision, but it is best I withdraw from college…” 

Then, in early June I was offered a scholarship. I was overjoyed but I wasn’t sure it would be enough. A week later President Obama announced the deferred action program and I now qualified for a work permit! With my new work permit, I could work and earn enough to return to my pre-med studies. 

NWIRP helped my sister and me step by step through the deferred action application process and we are not the only ones. Since August, NWIRP has put on dozens of legal workshops and clinics providing 2,042 young people with DACA related legal advice.  In addition, in 2012 more than 7,500 people have been given direct legal representation or other legal assistance through NWIRP’s other programs. 

I came to Jorge as a complete stranger with a bunch of immigration questions. He didn’t turn me away. He did the complete opposite. NWIRP did everything in their power to help me. 

My family supports NWIRP now because we know first-hand the difference that having help from a lawyer makes and we want others to have the same opportunity. 

Mari and Adriana at NWIRP's office

Your support, like my family’s support, is critical to the thousands of us who can go further with more options.

I hope you see the difference your support of NWIRP made for me. I hope you will make a gift today

Thank you so much. 

Yours sincerely,
Mari Barrera
NWIRP Advocate, DREAMer and Pre-Med Student

Click here to make a secure online gift supporting NWIRP's work.

NWIRP's complaint of Border Patrol agents as "Interpreters" 

On May 1, 2012 Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and cooperating attorneys Elizabeth Hawkins and Wendy Hernandez filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security challenging the practice of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies calling in U.S. Border Patrol agents as “interpreters” for routine matters.  The complaint asserts that this practice violates federal laws including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by failing to ensure that all persons have access to government services, regardless of limited English skills. 

The complainants include: 


C.D. a pregnant mother and her two young children, were passengers in a vehicle that was pulled over by Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office in March 2010. At the time, C.D. was 40 weeks pregnant and was expected to give birth within days.  She and her (U.S. citizen) children were detained and taken to the Bellingham Border Patrol station when Border Patrol agents were called to provide interpretation during the traffic stop.  C.D. had no prior criminal or immigration history, but is now facing deportation as a result of the Border Patrol’s involvement as “interpreters.” C.D. is a member of the Bellingham, Washington community and has lived there for four years.  


M.N. was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by the U.S. Forest Service on May 2011. Before he had any contact with M.N. or the other occupants in the vehicle, the Forest Service officer called the Border Patrol for “interpretation assistance.” M.N., the mother of two young children, both of whom are U.S. citizens, was detained by Border Patrol agents. M.N. had no prior criminal or immigration history and has been a member of the Forks, Washington community for more than 6 years.  


A.B. is a mother of two young U.S. citizen children and was fourteen weeks pregnant when a vehicle she was a passenger in, was pulled over for speeding by the Washington State Patrol last February.  She was ultimately detained and placed in removal (deportation) proceedings when Border Patrol agents were called to the scene. A.B. had no prior criminal or immigration history, but is now facing deportation as a result of the Border Patrol’s involvement as “interpreters.” A.B. is a member of the Mount Vernon, Washington community and has lived there for four years.


On March 2011, E.F., the husband of a U.S. Citizen and father of a U.S. citizen child, was driving in Okanogan County when he was pulled over by the Washington State Patrol. Border Patrol agents were called to the scene allegedly to provide “interpretation assistance.”  E.F. had no prior criminal or immigration history, but is now facing deportation as a result of the Border Patrol’s involvement as “interpreters.” E.F. is a member of the Okanogan, Washington community. 


In June 2011, G.H. was driving in Anacortes, Washington when he was pulled over by an Anacortes Police officer for an alleged traffic violation. The officer contacted Border Patrol who tried to question G.H. over the phone. When G.H. refused to answer any of their questions, a Border Patrol agent directed the Anacortes Police officer to nonetheless detain G.H. The Border Patrol agents later submitted a misleading incident report in the case. G.H. had no prior criminal or immigration history, but is now facing deportation as a result of the Border Patrol’s involvement as “interpreters.” G.H. has been a member of the Burlington, Washington community for more than 12 years.   


K.L. is the father of a four-year-old U.S. citizen child who has had substantial health problems. In April 2012, K.L. was pulled over by a Spokane Police Department officer.  The officer alleged that K.L. was speeding but gave him only a verbal warning. The officer also contacted Border Patrol agents, allegedly for “interpretation assistance,” leading to K.L. being handcuffed and detained in front of his daughter, who had to be picked up from the scene by a relative. K.L. had no criminal history, but is now facing deportation as a result of the Border Patrol’s involvement as “interpreters.” K.L. has been a member of the Spokane, Washington community for more than five years. 

NWIRP and ACLU Class Action Lawsuit Against Border Patrol 

On April 26, 2012 Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the ACLU of Washington, with cooperating firm Perkins Coie LLP, filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the U.S. Border Patrol's practice of stopping vehicles and interrogating people without legal justification. 

Through this lawsuit we hope the federal courts will intervene and force the Border Patrol to put a stop to abusive practices that violate our Constitution.  

Meet three of the Plaintiffs below, and learn more about the lawsuit here.

Ernest Grimes

Ernest Grimes is a resident of Neah Bay, a correctional officer at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, and a part-time police officer. In 2011, a Border Patrol agent stopped the vehicle in which Grimes was traveling, approached with his hand on his weapon, and yelled at Grimes to roll down his window. Without offering a reason for the stop, the agent interrogated Grimes about his immigration status. Grimes, who is African American, was wearing his correctional officer uniform at the time.

Ismael Ramos Contreras

Ismael Ramos Contreras, student body president at Forks High School, was stopped in 2011 in Port Angeles, where he was traveling with other teens to pick up tuxedos for a Quinceañera celebration. Four Border Patrol agents stopped the vehicle and interrogated the boys about their immigration status, never providing a reason for the stop.

In an earlier incident the previous year, the boy was stopped and interrogated by a plain clothes Border Patrol agent wearing their badge backwards.

Jose Sanchez

Jose Sanchez is a resident of Forks and correctional officer for the Olympic Corrections Center. In 2011 in Forks, Border Patrol agents stopped the vehicle he was in, saying its windows were too dark – even though the driver’s side window was not tinted. The agents questioned Sanchez – a U.S. citizen – about where he was from. 

In an earlier incident in Forks, Sanchez was traveling home in a vehicle which was followed by Border Patrol agents.  When he arrived at his house, the agents approached him. But when Sanchez began to record the encounter with his cell phone, the agents backed away.

When Sanchez called the Border Patrol office to complain about being repeatedly stopped and interrogated, the office supervisor told him simply, “We have certain cars that we need to pull over.” 

Story Project

NWIRP's Story Project archives NWIRP’s history. We ask the community- our supporters, current and former clients, volunteers and staff, the founders and YOU to join us! Why do you value Northwest Immigrant Rights Project? Submit your NWIRP story here! Below are some of the most recent submissions - thank you to those that have shared their stories! Add yours to the project today!


I worked for the government in the Gambia. The president was overthrown in a military coup in 1994. After the current president took over, I was a threat to him. I was marked on a blacklist and arrested and tortured. I had to flee for my life; I left the Gambia and my family in 2003.

I went to Senegal but was not secure there, so I paid smugglers to get me to the United States. I got so sick I almost died duringthat journey by sea.

When I came to Seattle, I was traumatized; it was all too much. I spent time in at Harborview Hospital; it was there that I learned aboutNorthwest Immigrant Rights Project. I didn’t know how the [immigration] system worked and had missed a deadline. I had given up hope.

NWIRP took my case. It was reopened, and my asylum was approved. I don’t know where I would be without them. Later, NWIRP helped me bringmy family to safety:  my children and my wife. NWIRP works without fear or favor. They are there to help those in need.

*"Lamin" still fears for the safety of his family in the Gambia.  He asked us to change his name and photo for our materials.

Rosalia and Angélica

Former client and NWIRP staff attorney

Angélica remembers, “When I first met Rosalia, she was already a survivor. She was already empowered. It’s not that her life was easy – it wasn’t. Rosalia married at the age of 16, escaping a childhood of witnessing domestic violence. Soon after their wedding, Rosalia’s husband brought her to the U.S., and they settled in the Pacific Northwest.

“Rosalia’s husband turned out to be like her father in the one way she dreaded most – he was abusive. Once their child was born, her husband had the ultimate power to keep Rosalia by his side; when she ‘acted up’ he threatened to leave her and take their son with him. Because of this fear of losing her son, Rosalia stayed.

“She took solace in the fact that he did not hit her. Her husband yelled, he threatened, and he raised his hand at her, but he told her, ‘I’m not stupid, I know you’d call the police if I hit you.’

“He was right. One night in 2005, the first time his yelling turned physical, Rosalia called the police. Her husband was arrested based on Rosalia’s statement and the bruises he’d left on her chest and legs. A few months later, their relationship ended for good.”

Since 2005, reporting domestic violence has become even more dangerous for undocumented immigrants.  Programs like Secure Communities are spreading quickly, and in some cities, Customs and Border Protection officers act as 911 dispatchers and translators for local police, blurring the line between immigration enforcement and public safety.  

“During the following years, Rosalia worked full time and worked towards her GED.  By March 2007, Rosalia considered herself a survivor. She had gone through domestic violence counseling, and regained her self-confidence.

“That month, she was visiting a friend when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ‘ICE,’ the agency that enforces immigration laws, came to her friend’s home.  They didn’t find who they were looking for, but questioned Rosalia.  

Knowing about her right to remain silent, and unafraid to exercise it, Rosalia refused to answer. The ICE agents handcuffed Rosalia anyway and looked through her wallet until they found an ID identifying her as Mexican.

“When Rosalia realized she was being taken to immigration detention, she pleaded for one call to make arrangements for the care of her young son. She used that call to contact her husband, begging him to take care of their son because she believed she’d be deported.”

Women who are detained are frequently faced with an impossible choice – have their children go to their violent partners, or have the State put the children in foster care.

“At any one time in the city of Tacoma there are around 1,200 immigrants jailed facing deportation proceedings at the Northwest Detention Center. Rosalia became one of them.

“Because immigration law is civil rather than criminal, there are no public defenders and Rosalia was not entitled to a court-appointed attorney.”

Individuals without the means to hire an attorney must navigate the complex immigration system alone. Approximately 90% of those detained in Tacoma go through the process unrepresented, without the legal expertise of an attorney. To fill this gap in justice, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project offers individual consultations to any detainee who cannot afford an attorney, along with other efforts to protect the rights of detainees.

“I met Rosalia in detention after our attorneys in Tacoma referred her case to me. Her first priority was to reunite with her child, and after a successful bond hearing, she posted bond and left detention. In her case, her husband agreed to return her son without a fight.”

Many must battle in the courts to regain custody of their children, either from their partners or from foster care.

“Rosalia and I worked on her U visa application - a form of immigration protection for individuals who have been victims of certain serious crimes, and have helped investigate and prosecute these crimes. Many months later, it was finally approved. Her deportation case was closed. The U.S. government would not send her back to Mexico. For the first time since she had arrived in the U.S., she had a work permit.

A work permit means being able to receive a valid Social Security number. It means access to financial aid, access to public benefits, and access to jobs where they don’t have to put up with subpar wages and treatment because they are ‘off the books.’

“Rosalia completed her GED and began college. She also began a full time job for a local Head Start program, balancing work, school, and her own parenting responsibilities.

“A few months ago, I went through my mail and found an envelope from Rosalia in the stack. I opened it to find a check for $800 and a letter thanking NWIRP for helping her through what she called 'the darkest moments of her life' – her time in immigration detention. She asked that we use the money to keep helping others who are going through the same thing.  For Rosalia— a full time student, full time parent, and full time employee —that $800 constituted more than one paycheck.

“Rosalia didn’t need me to rescue her. She needed legal representation so she could have the option of bonding out of immigration detention and reuniting with her child. She needed a lawyer to help her submit her U visa application, so she could avoid deportation, get a work permit, and have the option of finishing school and getting a job with a living wage.

“Rosalia’s story stands out because it illustrates so clearly to me what my role as an attorney is – to provide options.

“Rosalia sent NWIRP that $800 because she recognized the difference of having a lawyer at that crucial moment in her life, and she wanted others to benefit from that access.”

We know you recognize the importance of that access too.

In 2011, NWIRP has already provided over 10,200 individuals like Rosalia with legal advice and representation.  The need has grown every year and 2012 will be no exception.  

Your support, like Rosalia’s, is critical to the thousands of others who need options.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project needs your support in order to maintain our critical services. Please click here to make a secure online gift today and help transform the lives of people like Rosalia and her family.


Former Client

Since most of my family lives in the USA, I immigrated here in 2001.  I found life more peaceful, so I wanted to become a US citizen.  I am over 80 years old and know very little English.  I could not imagine learning the USA history at this stage in my life to be able to pass the citizenship test.

Through Literacy Source my son learned that NWIRP provides assistance to people who want to become US citizens so he contacted NWIRP staff.

NWIRP staff helped connect me with valuable training to understand the history of the USA and pass the citizenship test.  NWIRP staff helped me get rid of my fears to learn something new and complicated at this stage in my life.  I feel that I have accomplished an almost unreachable goal with the help of NWIRP.  Because of NWIRP, I will be able to live with my family in the USA.  

Because of NWIRP, I believe I will have a positive influence and be a contributing member to the society in my new country.

Martha Enriquez

Client in 2002

This is my opportunity to say thank you to the NWIRP for all the support I had from you guys in a very hard time. I got married in a good faith with an American man in 2001. He brought me to the U.S.A. in a fiancee visa from Mexico City where I had a good job, my family and a happy life. Once married here he was an abussive violent man, so that I looked for help, I found the NWIRP and they help me to get my green card through a Pro bono Attorney and under the VAWA. Now I am happily living in California, I've already got the American citizenship and I have been useful to the American and Latino society working as a Parent and Health Counselor. So Thank you so much for all your help and for all the help and work you do every day for the people in need.

Anthony Ravani

NWIRP Pro Bono Attorney

Anthony (Tony) Ravani won asylum for a young woman living a torturous existence in her home country and reunited her with her mother in Seattle. He took the pro bono case when approached by the woman’s mother, who had come to the United States seeking asylum from religious persecution because she was a converted-Christian in a Muslim country. She applied to bring her daughter to the United States in 2005, but the young woman’s Muslim father found out and imprisoned her for nine months. She was barely alive when the father came back after and took her to serve her stepmother, who beat her. After much abuse, she finally escaped in October 2008 and made her way to a U.S. Embassy. It took Tony more than a year and much work, including traveling to the woman’s home country to meet her and gather evidence, but the woman was granted asylum and arrived at Sea-Tac Airport to meet her mother on Oct. 7.

Grace Huang

Volunteer 1992-1996, staff member in 1996, Board Member 2001-2005

I began volunteering at NWIRP in 1992 with Samantha, doing screening and intake, when I was a first year law student, as I wanted to learn more about the law and use my language skills. I talked to numerous individuals on the phone, and people who walked in off the street, who were looking for assistance with their legal status. I spent hours asking people personal questions, trying to sort out if they might have some route to legal status. Those first several months opened up my eyes to the depth of the problem we are still trying to solve today, that there are very limited opportunities for immigration relief for the vast majority of people seeking it, no matter how compelling their life stories, and that there really is no other avenue for individuals seeking legal help in this arena if they are of limited means. Those first few months sparked my passion for working in the arena of immigration law, both at NWIRP for a little while, and since then as an attorney and as a policy advocate.