UPDATE: Employer Gives Hope to Ex-Wife of Former Diplomat

Lilian Ibeh said her ex-husband abused her. He left his job at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington under the threat of criminal charges.
Lilian Ibeh said her ex-husband abused her. He left his job at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington under the threat of criminal charges. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
Sunday, December 31, 2006

Toward the end of the fall, Lilian Ibeh, the former battered wife of a Nigerian diplomat, was unemployed and losing sleep trying to figure out how to pay rent and feed her three children.

The Rockville woman is allowed to stay in the United States while she seeks a special visa for foreigners who have been victims of crime. But the visa category, which was approved by Congress in 2000, remains unavailable because officials at the Department of Homeland Security have not spelled out its regulations.

Ibeh remains in limbo, being eligible only for work permits that must be renewed each year and having no assurance that she will become a permanent resident.

But after The Washington Post published an article in November about her case, Ibeh said, the agency that had placed her in temporary jobs got a call from a large firm that wanted Ibeh on its payroll. She is not a full-time employee, but the job has become semi-permanent, allowing her to take home $500 a week.

"Everyone here is so good to me," Ibeh, 40, said about her colleagues at her new job at the Rockville branch of Wolters Kluwer, where she is the office coordinator. "Even though the income is low, you feel there's something you bring to the table. You don't have to depend on anyone."

Before the article ran, Ibeh said, she felt that several prospective employers turned her down because they were skeptical about the validity of her work authorization documents and unaware of the situation that she and other "U visa" applicants are in.

Ibeh's husband left the United States in 2002 after Montgomery County prosecutors sought to strip him of diplomatic immunity to charge him with assault, according to Ibeh and court records.

She applied for a U visa shortly after he left, but like thousands of other immigrants who have been crime victims, she is waiting for DHS officials to clarify eligibility requirements and long-term options for U visa holders. DHS officials say finalizing the regulations has taken several years because the process is complex and involves several agencies.

Ibeh is not the only one in her family now bringing home a paycheck. Her daughter, Beverly, who recently turned 15, got a part-time job at a Panera restaurant in Montgomery.

After four tumultuous years, Ibeh said, she and her children were able to have a relaxing Christmas with friends and could even exchange gifts.

And although she says she's troubled by her graying hair, Ibeh is going to do something she hasn't done in ages when she turns 41 next month.

"I haven't had a birthday party in five years," she said.

-- Ernesto LondoƱo

© 2006 The Washington Post Company