Illustration of Ana Navarro courtesy of OCAD

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A Southeast Side resident and abuse survivor is facing deportation despite being eligible for a U visa. Attorneys from the National Immigration Justice Center in Chicago (NIJC) say Ana Navarro, thirty-one, qualifies for a U visa because she is a survivor of child sexual abuse and gender-based violence and has cooperated with law enforcement. With a U visa, she would be granted permission to stay in the U.S., work, and have the ability to apply for lawful permanent residency.

Navarro was born in Mexico, but has been living in the U.S. since she was two years old. She has been detained in Wisconsin since February awaiting a hearing on May 30 and could be deported as early as this summer. Local and national immigration advocates are calling on Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release her because Navarro has had a U visa application pending since February 2022. 

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a U visa is “set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.” 

To tell Navarro’s story, it is important to trace the story of her sexual abuse as a child, her attorneys say. She was in second grade when she confided in a teacher that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her since she was five. Her mother was also physically abusive. The Weekly has withheld their names at her attorney’s request.

According to Olivia Abrecht, the immigration attorney on her case, Navarro cooperated in the police investigation, resulting in the arrest and conviction of both her stepfather and mother who both served time for these crimes. 

After she was released on probation, Navarro’s mother took parenting classes which allowed her to gain permission to see Navarro, including her three younger sisters. 

Growing up, Navarro said she struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression due to the abuse. She said she attended some therapy sessions, but she felt like she couldn’t open up with her grandmother present, who she loved very much. “I couldn’t have one-on-one sessions. My grandma was always there. So I never felt comfortable opening up about what I was really feeling.”

At sixteen, Navarro became pregnant while she was in a consensual relationship. Two years later, she said that her mother sent Navarro and her daughter to live with a man in his twenties, a situation in which Navarro experienced more abuse. 

Navarro said the man was controlling and physically and verbally abusive towards her and her daughter for the four months they lived in his home. “He controlled how I dressed, he never left me money for the most basic things. He had many expectations of what time I could go to sleep, and whenever he got up, I had to get up with him. I just had nowhere to go to provide for my daughter, until he turned around and abused her.”  

Navarro is referring to a day when she found her then two-year-old daughter beaten up inside a toy closet in the apartment. “I remember running from him because he was trying to snatch her from me,” she said. “Because he found out that I found her [in that state]. And from then on, his family got involved because they heard all the commotion.”

According to her case summary, Navarro tried to take her daughter and leave, but could not escape as he and some members of his family kept her from leaving the apartment for fear that she would report the abuse. 

For a period of two weeks, Navarro and her baby were held captive in one of the bedrooms of the apartment. The family watched their every move, she said. During this time, Navarro was asked to tie up her daughter with scarves so she wouldn’t attempt to leave. The man made threats that he would hurt them both if she did not comply, so she did, she said. 

Navarro said she was able to escape by eventually convincing the family that she wasn’t going to report him to the police. Her cousin and best friend took Navarro and her daughter to the hospital. However, Navarro was arrested shortly after. 

“They arrested me because they said I was accountable for his actions,” Navarro said. “Because they said I wanted to live with him and I thought it was okay.” 

Navarro’s attorney, Abrecht, said that prosecutors charged Navarro as a co-defendant for the harm done to her daughter and she was convicted along with him.

Abrecht said that not having been counseled about her rights and the possibility of deportation, Navarro pled guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to fifteen years. She later tried to appeal her sentence, but did not have a lawyer for the case and the appeal was filed too late. 

Navarro said she gave up her daughter for adoption when she knew she had to serve time in prison. “It was the right thing to do,” she said. “My daughter was such a sweet, loving child. She gave me a reason to live when I got pregnant with her.” 

“The fact that someone is undocumented is often used against them to keep them captive in abusive relationships,” said Alexis Mansfield, senior advisor at the Women’s Justice Institute and director of the Incarcerated Survivors Project. “And yet, that is not a factor that’s considered when somebody is being charged or sentenced.”

Mansfield met Navarro when she was at the Logan Correctional Center with her organization for an event during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. While there, she learned that Navarro was a criminalized survivor. 

At Logan, where Navarro served her sentence, she became an advocate and mentor for other victims of violence. She taught inner circle, conflict resolution, art classes, and art therapy, and she was also part of a horticulture program. 

Navarro is proud of an art project she partook in while there. “I was able to help paint and decorate the visiting room at Logan to make it a more friendly place for the children to come visit their mothers. We painted different cartoon characters to make it a more welcoming place,” she said.

In November 2022, Navarro was released early due to her good behavior.

Mansfield and Navarro continued to work together after her release. “Ana got involved with the Women’s Justice Institute right away because she wanted to help other women,” Mansfield said. “She’s an amazing artist. She encouraged her friends to come and to take part in activities, including our reclamation circles, which are our monthly circles, led by and for formerly incarcerated women to reclaim their lives.”

But in February of 2023, just a few months after her release, ICE tracked Navarro down at Hardin House, a home for women recently released from prison. She was living there to receive services to help her re-enter society. 

Navarro was supposed to join the Women’s Justice Institute as a policy fellow this year to advocate for state legislation on behalf of survivors. She was also a women’s coach through the Women Initiating New Directions Program, funded by Northwestern University.

Now Navarro awaits trial at the Dodge County Jail in Wisconsin. At the jail, she shares a unit with sixteen others. She is not allowed to go outside for fresh air. “The windows are covered where you can’t see outside. You don’t see anything but maybe the sky.” 

From the time she wakes up at 6:30 am every day, besides limited recreational time with others, she says she sits alone in a room with nothing to do. Mental health services are not offered at the facility and Navarro said the jail doesn’t offer fresh food. Everyday foods include canned or frozen fruit. 

On March 10, the immigration agency issued a Final Administrative Order of Removal (FARO) by ICE, Abrecht said. A FARO allows ICE to deport someone without having to appear in immigration court. ICE issued Navarro a FARO because her conviction is considered an aggravated felony under immigration law. 

But her attorney explained that because Navarro has a fear of returning to Mexico, she was placed in “withholding-only proceedings”, which are limited proceedings before an immigration judge. In this situation, Navarro may present a claim based on her fear of return to Mexico that could allow her to stay in the U.S. The Convention Against Torture is a UN human rights treaty that demands that signatory countries investigate all allegations of torture, to “bring to justice the perpetrators, and to provide a remedy to victims of torture.”

“If Ana were in regular removal proceedings,” Abrecht explained, “the immigration judge would be able to adjudicate the waiver necessary for her U visa application to be granted and she could be released pending USCIS’s grant of her application. But the judge does not have the authority to grant that waiver in withholding-only proceedings.” 

Navarro’s attorneys and immigration advocates point out that under ICE Directive 11005.3, ICE is supposed to look at these types of cases with a “victim-centered approach” and consider prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutorial discretion refers to the power that U.S. immigration agencies such as ICE have to determine the outcome of an immigration case. 

This means ICE could drop the FARO and place Navarro in regular removal proceedings, but ICE declined, according to Abrecht.

The Weekly reached out to ICE regarding Navarro’s case and how they use their discretion in these types of cases. A spokesperson replied, “Due to privacy, we are unable to comment on this case.”

“The U.S. doesn’t invest in systems to adequately support and not criminalize survivors,” said Karina Solano Suarez, the anti-deportation coordinator with the organization Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD). “It’s an immense problem that immigrants, like Ana, who were imprisoned and served their time can face additional carceral time by being taken into ICE custody due to their status. 

“ICE’s enforcement is arbitrary and exacerbates cycles of violence. We cannot trust an agency that does not follow its own memo for enforcement priorities. OCAD stands in solidarity with Ana who is fighting for her freedom, healing, and the ability to support other survivors like herself.”

“I know that a lot of people don’t tell the story, especially immigrants that are victims of domestic violence,” Navarro said over the phone. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll get in trouble here and not get the help. I feel like those three months when I did get to be at home, I got a little taste of what my life could be if everything goes well, and if I get the blessing of staying here.” 

Mansfield told the Weekly that Navarro cared very deeply, not just about her own life, but about changing things for those around her. “We need her back in the community to continue fighting for a better Chicago and a better Illinois.”

Navarro hopes to be released and continue her work in helping survivors of gender-based violence and sexual abuse. “I want to help people that have gone through or are going through what I went through and help them heal. I have a purpose and I know that God’s not just gonna take me away from it.”

OCAD is asking people to support Navarro’s release from ICE detention through an online petition

Alma Campos is a senior editor at the Weekly and a freelance journalist.

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1 Comment

  1. The contributions of immigrants to our society and economy cannot be overstated. They bring diverse perspectives, skills, and innovation, enriching the fabric of our nation.

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