From Gary Metzker, Contributing writer
Angels are real to Mary Ellen Mitchell, who has been Managing Director of WomenShelter in Long Beach for five years.
“I believe there are angels among us,” she said, “who were sent down to us from somewhere above.”
And one of those angels, she is convinced, is John C. Lemacks II – a man Mitchell has never met.
But she is not alone in this certainty. This also applies to a WomenShelter customer who was given the pseudonym “Jane” by the officials at the animal shelter to protect her identity from those who might want to harm her.
Jane met Lemacks, an immigration attorney, in 2015 near the rock bottom of her life – having survived the religious persecution in her native Bangladesh, domestic violence and the trauma of desperately seeking safety.
But Lemacks, a Long Beach woman, became something of a father figure to Jane, helping her stay in the United States, and giving her a path to a prosperous future.
This is the story of how the two found each other through WomenShelter Long Beach – and how Lemacks became Jane’s angel.
“I was scared and I was so lost,” said Jane. “(Lemacks) was there. He was such an angel. “
Escape the damage
Jane has made several escapes in her life.
The first came in 2014 when she and her then-husband’s family, who are Roman Catholic, fled Bangladesh in South Asia.
The family is “facing terrible persecution by militant Islamic fundamentalists because of (their) religion,” Lemacks said in an email. “And when I say terrible, I mean terrible.”
Jane, her young daughter, husband, and in-laws filed for asylum shortly after arriving in California and settled in Los Angeles.
But shortly afterwards Jane had to flee again – this time from her own family.
Her then-husband and parents abused her and restricted her movements. That abuse, Jane said, contradicted the reason she came to America.
“In 2014 I decided not to be with my in-laws because they wouldn’t let me out of the house without permission,” said Jane. “I came to this country with high hopes and I haven’t given up. I do it. I fight. “
And so she did.
“I filed a police report right after Mother’s Day,” said Jane, “and I’ve decided not to live with them anymore.”
Jane, a private tutor and school teacher in Bangladesh, had no money and no job. For her safety, officials sent her to Long Beach – to WomenShelter.
“The people who come to our shelter aren’t from Long Beach because it would be dangerous,” said Mitchell. “If you come here from another city, you don’t have to stay cooped up. You can go shopping and do other things. “
The WSLB began in 1977 and has been providing shelter, counseling and other support to domestic violence survivors ever since. The women who end up there are victims of abuse, often lacking financial independence and, without help, would face the specter of returning to abusers.
“The people who live at the shelter are like everyone else,” said Mitchell. “It could be your sister or your neighbor; You don’t know who a victim is, ”said Mitchell. “We’re doing everything we can to keep them independent.”
It was at the shelter that Jane, the daughter in tow, would continue her journey towards independence.
But she would need help from her angel.
Lemacks has a good résumé.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State Chico and received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law in 2000. The State Bar of California has certified him as a specialist in immigration and citizenship law.
Lemacks spent nearly nine years with the Tafapolsky and Smith, LLP law firms in Los Angeles. Today he is a partner in the firm, which also has offices in San Francisco, London and Singapore, and specializes in corporate immigration. He helps Fortune Top 50 companies attract talent from around the world and helps these people obtain visas to work and reside in the United States
However, in 2013, Lemacks also began volunteering for the WomenShelter.
Two years later he met Jane.
From his point of view, this first encounter was a bit rocky.
“When I met Jane, her arms were crossed,” Lemacks said. “She thought, ‘Who are you?'”
But then, said Lemacks, she told him her story.
“What tore me apart was that this was a woman who suffered the most horrific abuse,” Lemacks said, “and just leaving a country and then realizing that the US is not so rosy and the people, with who you are together, attack you. ” . She showed great strength. “
So he and WomenShelter got to work.
The shelter helped Jane divorce her ex-husband while Lemacks navigated the tangled bureaucracy of the immigration system.
Lemacks worked on several fronts.
He filed a U-Visa on her behalf, which is a nonimmigrant visa intended for victims of crime who have suffered significant mental or physical abuse in the United States and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecuting crimes to support the criminal activity.
However, the U-Visa is quota-based, so waiting times can be more than five years.
But when Jane’s divorce became final, there was a second front: asylum.
When Jane first came to the United States, she had the same asylum application as her ex-husband and in-laws. Now she was legally alone.
Therefore, Lemacks filed an individual application for asylum on behalf of Jane. Her case ended in an immigration court.
“There are angels who work for the government,” Lemacks said. “You’re there; people only hear about the bad things, but someone sane comes down from heaven and says, ‘Tell me your story,’ and it’s important that people hear that.”
And so Jane won her case. Her asylum application was approved in 2017. (This year her U-Visa was postponed.)
But Lemacks wasn’t finished. After Jane had been an asylum for a year, Lemacks began working on her green card application.
Then, two months ago, Jane and Lemacks received some much-needed good news: The Department of Homeland Security had approved their green card.
“I met people who were like angels in my life,” said Jane. “I felt that God sent John. He is my father figure. I looked up at him.
“John said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” added Jane. “He said,’ I’ll help you. ‘”
And so he did.
A bright future
There’s one thing Jane is still missing: her actual green card.
Lemacks has it, but couldn’t give it to her because of the coronavirus pandemic. Right now it’s locked in a safe place.
Despite those hiccups, it’s clear that Lemacks and Jane’s meeting – and their journey together – benefited both of them.
For his part, Lemacks said helping Jane was the most rewarding experience of his career.
“That,” he said, “made me a better person and a better lawyer.”
Jane is currently studying to take her GED exam. She wants to go to a local university and get a degree in early childhood development.
“I realize that life is precious and I am grateful to be alive every day,” said Jane. “The fact that I was able to overcome and get this far is thanks to John and other amazing people.”
Jane also has a message that she would like to spread, one that has been cultivated from personal experience.
“Please let other women know that they can do better in their lives,” she said. “You have to make your own life.”
WomenShelter Long Beach
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