Mercy Victor had a blueprint for starting over.
Shortly after her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident in India, she arrived in Chicago. It was early 2003 and she'd left her nearly 4-year-old son home for what she thought would be a short separation until she launched her nursing career.
"America is everybody's dream," she says with a shy smile. "I thought I will have a good life here."
She passed her nurse's licensing test. She quickly found work. All was going according to plan.
Then Victor became entangled in a mass of immigration red tape that has left her confused, exasperated _ and more than eight years later, still separated from her son, now 11, and a husband in India she's lived with for just one month in six years.
"Sometimes I'm so depressed, you know," says Victor, rubbing her arms as she talks about problems with arthritis she links to stress. "I think I did not do anything wrong. I pay all my taxes. I don't owe money to anyone. I pay all my bills and I don't take any free services. I feel I have a right to stay here just like anyone else."
Victor's immigration problems began soon after her arrival. She was denied a green card _ to make her a permanent resident _ because the nursing agency that hired her couldn't verify it had money to pay her. Then her new employer, a suburban hospital, tried. But immigration officials said she had already been rejected that first time, she was here illegally because her visa had expired.
Mercy Victor was given a Hobson's choice: Leave or be kicked out.
She's hoping a judge in immigration court will overturn the decision that says she's not eligible to stay here. But that's been an agonizingly slow process; her next hearing is in August.
Her current lawyer, Scott D. Pollock, argues that the 41-year-old Victor _ who also worked as a nurse in India _ is being punished for technicalities that aren't her fault.
Before her court fight began, Victor returned to India in late 2005, remarried and spent 28 days there with her new husband and son. They all talk regularly, but haven't seen each other since because she can't travel outside the U.S.
"If you have true love, you can withstand anything," Victor says. "And I know there will be a day when we can be together."
When that will be is uncertain.
Victor is counting on securing a visa in a certain category for Indian citizens but there are no openings now. Immigration authorities won't allow her to stay here until a slot opens, Pollock says, and if she leaves the U.S., she'd be subject to a 10-year ban before she could return.
Victor started working on a master's degree _ she says it's a productive distraction _ and is an intensive care unit nurse; her boss, in a letter of support, praises her as someone who "routinely exceeds expectations."
She refuses to abandon her dream.
"I still think America is the best place," she says. "I still believe that. To reach the goal, you have to undergo a lot of struggles. It's not easy. I know that."