A courageous mother and survivor is fighting for her children’s future and she needs our support. Will you join us by donating to Lucía’s legal defense?
Lucía has survived gender-based violence from several men for years. But the situation became dire last fall when Lucía’s baby was injured and, due to the abuse, she felt she had no choice but to take the blame. Now Lucía is being prosecuted by a criminal legal system that has failed to protect her and her children every step of the way. If convicted, she faces up to life in prison, permanent separation from her children, and deportation.
Lucía needs a fierce legal advocate with gender and cultural competency to stand the best chance of winning her case and reuniting with her family. But the court denied Lucía an attorney she could trust and a say in her legal representation simply because she is poor.
We are coming together as Lucía’s community – her parents, siblings, friends, teachers, fellow church members, and neighbors –to raise $53,000 so Lucía can afford an attorney to fight for her freedom and her family before her trial in late summer.
All funds up to $53,000 will go to Lucía’s legal defense, with any extra dedicated to her family expenses.
Read on for more of Lucía’s story and why we are coming together to support criminalized survivors like her.
*Note: Lucía’s name has been changed to protect her and her family’s safety.
Lucía and her children put their hands together.
Lucía is an Indigenous mother in her twenties raising six children in a forested town in Washington State. When she was eleven, Lucía immigrated from a small village in Mexico to join her parents and to help her family have a better life.
Her brother fondly remembers their childhood:
“Lucía always took care of the other children. She cooked for us. She was very good at taking care of us.”
Sharing about her dreams when she arrived in the US, Lucía says:
“I wanted to study to be a nurse because I love working with children. It hurts me to see a child who is sick. I want to help.”
When she was sixteen, Lucía gave birth to her first child and started a family with her partner.
Over the years, she has become an active member of her community, bringing her children to local events, participating in their school, and singing and praying at her Catholic Church. All of us lucky enough to know Lucía have been warmed by her generous smile, her curiosity and love of nature and music, her laughter, and above all, the deep and loving bond she has with her children.
A mother’s worst nightmare
Lucía’s community did not know that she had been suffering intimate partner violence by multiple abusers since she was a young teenager. The situation worsened in the fall of 2021 when Lucía was arrested and accused of harming her baby. Police interrogated Lucía -- who primarily speaks an indigenous language -- in languages she could not adequately understand or speak, an experience all too common for non-English speakers in the criminal system. Like many survivors, Lucía feared her abusers would harm her or her family if she spoke up about the abuse. She felt she had no choice but to take the blame for her baby’s injuries.
After the judge set an impossibly high bail, Lucía spent months in jail, isolated and terrified. She described it as the worst experience of her life:
“It has been like living in a nightmare. I have never hurt my children. I have never hurt anyone. My children are crying for me and I cannot be with them. I want to leave this fear I am feeling. My heart is crying and my children's hearts are crying.”
Fighting for her future with a court-appointed lawyer she feared
Given the gravity of her legal case, Lucía needs to feel safe telling her attorney about her history of trauma and abuse. But precisely because of what she has endured, Lucía fears men, including her male court-appointed attorney. Still, the court denied her request to change lawyers, making it clear that Lucía had no choice in her own legal defense. That choice is reserved for those wealthy enough to pay a private attorney.
Fortunately, a skilled and culturally competent woman attorney stepped forward to represent Lucía. Ruth Rivas is a public defender with a decade of experience and a deep understanding of gender-based violence. Hearing of the injustice of Lucía’s situation, she offered to donate her services at a low-bono rate. In Ruth’s words:
“Lucía has experienced a lack of choice and power from a young age, surviving abuse and sexual assault that led to her to needing a lawyer in the first place. Now the criminal system is continuing to deny her choice and is re-victimizing her. As her attorney, I will engage Lucía in her own defense so she can feel empowered to make decisions where her own life and future are at stake.”
Stand with Lucía and all criminalized survivors
Heartbroken and angry that Lucía and her family are being punished rather than helped by the criminal legal system, we, her community, have rallied around her. A non-profit organization came forward to pay Lucía’s bail and she is now out of jail and with a family member while she prepares her defense in hopes of returning home and reuniting with her children.
Lucía’s future hinges on having a lawyer she can trust. She faces charges with a potential sentence of life in prison, after which she could be stripped of her parental rights, deported, and permanently separated from her children and parents -- even though, as a victim of abuse, she should be eligible for immigration relief.
Lucía’s story is shared by many poor and working-class women – especially Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other women of color -- who survive violence only to be met with punishment and criminalization rather than safety and healing. And like so many others, Lucía is courageously fighting for her family’s future:
“What I want more than anything is to reunite with my family. To be close to my family. To have a safe home for us to live. I just want to be happy, and I want my children to be happy. They are so sad right now.”
A drawing by one of Lucía’s children created shortly after she was released from jail.
Please join us in standing with Lucía to ensure she has an attorney she trusts, an attorney who will accompany her in fighting for her freedom and the chance to raise her children in a loving home.
In Lucía’s words:
“Thank you, thank you so much. I feel God has sent me angels and those angels are you.”
Please donate generously and spread the word so we can reach our goal of $53,000 before Lucía’s trial. Any additional funds will go towards sustaining Lucía and her family (example: counseling, interpretation, phone bill, clothes, rent, food, etc.)
Thank you so much for giving what you are able!
Words from Lucía’s Family and Community
I am an immigrant rights lawyer who works with defense attorneys to help immigrants accused of crimes to advocate for outcomes that keep them from being deported. Lucía and her family’s circumstances are some of the most compelling I have encountered in my decades of doing this work. Lucía is what is known as a “victim-defendant”, a person accused of committing a crime who is actually the victim of crime. She is an extraordinarily resilient, capable survivor. Despite her trauma her light continues to shine brightly. If Lucía can be acquitted, she and her parents will have a path forward to obtain lawful immigration status. If convicted, she faces certain deportation and permanent banishment from her children and family. Contributing to her legal fund to ensure that her defense attorney Ruth Rivas (who is donating much of her time) has the resources to put together the strongest defense is a critical component for winning her case and reuniting her with her family.
-Annie, Immigrant Rights Lawyer
I met this mother when two of her daughters attended my preschool classroom. When we met for conferences and home visits, this mom’s energy was always warm and engaging, even with a language barrier. The children always looked so happy. Home visits were so rewarding as the children showed excitement when I arrived. The very outgoing 4-year-old girl practically screamed “Teacher Christine!” and she’d run to tell her mom and siblings. The older sister then younger brother would follow and come out to greet me. They would show me pictures they made or toys they were playing with. It was always warm, friendly, and I was invited in if I wanted to come in. When I dropped off resources to the home, Lucía made a point to give me something back in return. It was explained to me that in her culture you give back to someone who gives to you, so she made a point of this. One time was her home-made tortillas, she was making for her family for dinner. I visited her via phone/video when she was in jail, and I asked if she needed anything, for example food because I heard it is lacking in there, and she said no, she just wanted me to help check on her kids and make sure they were ok. I have grown to care for this mother and her family. I want the world to know she deserves justice and the best chance to heal from her trauma and reunite with all of her children!
-Christine, Former Preschool Teacher and Friend
We met Lucía when delivering gifts and food during COVID. We became friends with her delightful family and have enjoyed many fun times together. Lucía is always an excellent advocate for her kids. If she sees a need, she tries to find the solution. It was impressive how well her children did with virtual schooling during COVID, under Lucía’s guidance. She has worked hard to give her children a good life and is proud of them! The kids are usually laughing and happy and love their mom. We can’t imagine how hard it is for Lucía to be away from them for so long. They mean everything to her.
-Kathy, Church Volunteer
It has been my joy to meet and be a support to Lucía and her mother, father and her young children. I was fortunate to deliver groceries and household supplies to Lucía’s family. They are such a gracious family and kindly gave their thanks for the help they have received from so many dedicated people who come from different walks of life to advocate for Lucía. The most enjoyable was when I was able to speak by telephone with Lucía while she was in jail and most recently at her temporary home after she was released. She is a humble, sweet lady who misses her family and is committed to seeing herself through this difficult time in her life. She has great faith in God and prays diligently for the protection of her family. I believe there will be a positive outcome out of this situation. Lucía has many kind individuals working tirelessly to see her through it all.
-Jane, Church Volunteer
I met Lucía when her 2 daughters attended Elementary school, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know Lucía and her whole family. Since I was the case manager, I had the pleasure of seeing them all at school and at their home. Lucía was very caring and loving with her children. She attended parent teacher conferences and returned my phone calls. She was always asking to make sure they were polite and hard working students. I can’t understand how the courts can charge her without knowing how dedicated and loving she is with her children.
-Tracy, Community Member
I met Lucia at a community event three years ago and can still remember she sat with her baby contentedly nursing on her lap, paying close attention to the program. When Lucia walks into a room, you immediately feel her warmth and enthusiasm: her laughter and open, genuine smile. I’ve seen how hard Lucia works to make sure her children are always well cared for and happy. In recent months, I’ve been angry and grieving to see her live through a truly horrific series of events -- not only the abuse she survived but also the isolation and fear she felt while in jail. And yet, I have been in awe of her resilience. She has a profound spirituality rooted in deep love for her children, nature, and music. Even confronted with a very serious legal situation and a system that is not designed to respect her dignity, she has courageously navigated language barriers and advocated for a lawyer she could trust. I am so glad Ruth has come forward to represent her. Already, Ruth is showing such compassion, commitment and competency -- she is making a critical difference for Lucia to have access to justice. I hope you’ll join me in giving what you can to make it possible for Ruth to represent Lucia. I know Lucia has so many dreams -- to work, to volunteer, to make a home for her family, and to care for her children in peace. Let’s make it possible!
- Kristina, Community Member and Educator
Born and raised in North Carolina, Ruth has always been acutely aware of race and social justice issues. Growing up around racial tension and poverty, she organized her first protest at the age of 13 and has been committed to doing the right thing, not the easy thing, ever since. After high school, Ruth attended college at New York University where she got her first introduction to the criminal justice system, through an internship with the Legal Aid Society in Queens. After that experience she switched tracks from Art History to double major in Sociology and was on her way to law school.
During her time at Brooklyn Law School, Ruth received numerous public service awards and scholarships for her outstanding dedication to public service. She worked in both civil and criminal legal services and in her final year was one of the founding members of the Asylee Family Rescue Project, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds to reunite asylees to the US with their families by applying for derivative status.
Ruth has worked as a public defender in both Seattle and Oakland, taught public school in rural North Carolina, and also earned her masters degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she studied public administration in the hopes that she might one day contribute to systemic change in the way our country treats the criminally accused, mentally ill, and chemically addicted. Ruth is a seasoned and zealous advocate who lives her life to give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, and dignity and power to those who have seen little of either due to life circumstances. See Ruth’s CV here.
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