Richmond Heights Woman Helps Immigrant Victims of Violence
Aruna Tailor, a non-attorney specialist, volunteers with the Immigrant Law Project at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
Richmond Heights resident Aruna Tailor can empathize with the immigrants for whom she regularly provides legal services: The volunteer with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri was born in Kenya and later moved with her husband to the U.S. where, she said, freedom is respected.
"The freedom to choose is so important," said Tailor, a non-attorney specialist who has volunteered with Legal Services for roughly five years. That includes the freedom to practice religion, get an education and pursue happiness, she said.
Tailor holds a master's in social work and specializes in helping immigrants find freedom after they have become the victims of domestic violence and other crimes.
Earlier, she co-founded the South Asian Women's Empowerment and Resource Alliance (SAWERA), an agency that helps victims of domestic violence. No organizations at the time existed to help Southeast Asian women in such situations, Tailor said. She later met a representative with the Immigration Law Project at Legal Services.
"I realized that I could serve far more immigrants than just the South Asians," Tailor said.
Kim Murray is managing attorney with the Immigration Law Project at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. She said immigrants victimized by crime can apply for U Nonimmigrant Status (also known as a U Visa) to stay in the U.S. if they work with law enforcement to go after dangerous perpetrators.
Legal Services helps those immigrants navigate the steps needed to do that: Forming a safety plan, getting documents, finding housing.
Murray described the case of one victim in which Tailor played a key role.
"She had suffered so much abuse, and she was so afraid even just to call us," Murray said. "But Aruna actually drove to meet with her at a safe location, explained the rights that she had and helped her … and her U.S. citizen child escape that violence that they were living in."
Tailor witnessed domestic violence in her family as a child. As she got older, she committed herself to making a difference in the lives of others. She said in many cultures, it's taboo to talk publicly about the issue. That leaves women to "suffer in silence," Tailor said.
But through the Immigration Law Project, Tailor can identify windows of opportunity for clients that might allow them to stay in the U.S., remain with their children and be treated with dignity.
On Aug. 29, she will be honored with the Richard B. Teitelman Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes people who have given top service to the community by volunteering their legal services.
"This award is something that I share with my colleagues at the Immigration Law Project," Tailor said. She also recently received full accreditation as a non-attorney specialist from the Board of Immigration Appeals, which allows her to represent immigrants before U.S. immigration courts, the appeals board and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
She is on the board of directors of the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma.
"Aruna has helped close to 100 clients achieve safety and stability, which is what Legal Services of Eastern Missouri is about," Murray said. "And we could never have done that without her help."