“I thought it was the end of the road for us.”

The night that Ana’s* husband broke a bottle and held the jagged end to her face could have been her last. Four years later, a legal barrier threatened her oldest son’s life. Without the Harriett Buhai Center, Ana and her son might not be alive today.

After nearly 13 years of abuse–her husband’s violence escalating in tandem with his alcoholism and invovlement with illegal drugs–Ana fled with her three children from Central America to the United States.

With strength that belies her petite size, Ana was determined to obtain lawful permanent resident status and give her family a better life.

Ana cleaned houses and sewed in a clothing factory while her husband was in and out of jail and rehab. He made no attempt to contact or support his children, not even after Ana alerted his family that their 12-year-old son had developed a kidney condition that required him to be on dialysis.

And without sole legal custody of her children, Ana did not have full authority to make medical decisions for them. Divorce was now a necessity.

The immigration expert helping Ana recommended the Buhai Center. The legal staff there quickly started Ana’s divorce proceedings. Ana was granted full legal and physical custody of her children.

“That was the happiest day of my life,” Ana says. “I was so grateful to the Buhai Center.”

Now divorced, Ana was in the final stage of the immigration process when her son’s condition deteriorated.

He was in end stage renal failure, forced to endure daily dialysis to survive. A kidney transplant was his only hope. Emergency Medi-Cal covered his treatment, but would not cover a transplant. The state’s main Medi-Cal program did pay for the life-saving procedure, but Ana and her children could not get it without completing the immigration process and becoming legal permanent residents.

Approval of the immigration process was dependent on issuance of a passport from Ana’s home country. Although Ana’s husband had not seen the children since their separation and divorce, Ana was refused passports for the children because their father retained visitation rights in the court judgment. Ana was shattered to learn that because of this, Medi-Cal would be denied to her son.

“Get a lawyer,” was the final reponse to her tearful pleading over many visits. Ana knew only one place to go.

“She was crying so hard, I couldn’t understand her,” said Karina Estrella, the Buhai Center paralegal who took Ana’s desperate call. “She was frantic. Her son’s life was in danger.”

Buhai lawyers requested an emergency hearing for the distraught mother, but were told by the judge that the father’s visitation rights could only be nullified if he were notified of the action. Despite the father’s lack of cooperation, Ana perservered and through valient efforts was able to give notice to the father to satisfy the court.

Every moment counted. One day before the court hearing, Ana’s son went into emergency transplant surgery. But Ana got her immigration papers and the transplant will be covered retroactively.

“I am so happy and so grateful for all the help that the Buhai Center has given me and my family,” Ana says tearfully. “I didn’t know how it was going to get resolved. I thought it was the end of the road for us.”

Her face brightens as she talks about how life has changed for her children. Her youngest son is in 9th grade and her daughter in college. Her older son, now a healthy 11th-grader, speaks publicy on behalf of organ donation.

“It’s nice to see a happy eneding,” Center staff member Karina Estrella says, “especially when it’s a situation involving kids. We make a lot of difference in the lives of our clients, but we don’t often see how directly we impact children in such life-changing ways.”

*We have changed the name of our client to protect her privacy.