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Acid Attack Victim Becomes a U.S. Citizen

 

Photo: Laura Brown

 

Henry Cole

Asylee-Resettled through IRC

By Alexandra Phillips, Immigration Program Intern

 

Henry Cole was fast asleep one evening in his native Liberia when his life took a drastic, dark turn. Henry felt secure in Liberia, where he had worked as a policeman for fourteen years and shared a home with his beloved family in Monrovia. He was also a student in his third year of college, and he was very eager to obtain his degree. Henry looked forward to his graduation, and to watching his children grow up. However, in 2011, Henry’s life was altered forever when he was the victim of an acid attack and was forced to flee Liberia.

While he was asleep in his home in Monrovia, an unidentified assailant climbed through his bedroom window and attacked Henry with acid. For an instant, Henry thought someone had splashed him with water, but within moments he was overwhelmed by an excruciating pain. The toxic chemical entered his nose, eyes and mouth, burning the skin from his torso to the top of his head. The severity of his burns left him in complete agony, and a nearby hospital provided only minimal treatment. In desperation, Henry approached the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia where he was issued a medical visa to the U.S.

As soon as his plane landed in Boston, Massachusetts, Henry was transferred to the nearest hospital where he began receiving emergency medical care. His doctors soon decided to transfer him to Maryland where he could receive specialized care at the renowned Johns Hopkins Burn Center in Baltimore.

Fearful of returning to his home country and aware that his recovery would be many years long, Henry applied for political asylum in the United States. When his application was approved, immigration officials referred him to IRC. Over the next five years, IRC staff members in both Baltimore and Silver Spring, worked closely with Henry, providing him with case management services and assistance applying for his green card. Staff often met him at his bedside at Johns Hopkins Hospital, as his condition prohibited him from traveling to the office.

In between long stints in the hospital, Henry stayed with a Liberian family in nearby Laurel, MD where he spent his days in bed, chatting online with his family back home in Liberia. Though hearing their voices lifted his spirit, their separation was an additional level of pain. The well-being of his family was his greatest worry and he felt empty without his three-year-old daughter by his side. Henry’s injuries prevented him from finding a job and for his first few years in the U.S. his doctors forbade him from going outside during the daytime, as sunlight could further damage his skin.

Today, more than six years after he arrived in the U.S. and nearly 70 surgeries later, Henry’s recovery is remarkable. Although he will never fully resemble the person he was before the attack, he now leads is a life of relative normality. He found a job, got a driver’s license and is thinking about going back to college- an opportunity once stolen from him. Although he’s spent most of the last six years in the hospital or at home, bedridden and in recovery, Henry says that he has always felt at home in America, and has a deep love and gratitude for the country that took him in and helped him heal.

Upon receiving his green card in 2012, Henry began eagerly counting down the days until he was eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship. As soon as he reached the five-year residency requirement in 2017, Henry contacted the Immigration Program at the IRC’s office in Baltimore, where staff helped him fill out citizenship application. Once his application was submitted, Henry began studying for the reading, writing and U.S. history and civics exam that all prospective citizens are required to take.

His interview took place in July 2017. Although he was so nervous his hands and legs shook through the interview, Henry passed the examination without issue and his application for citizenship was approved. On August 10, 2017, Henry was sworn in as a U.S. Citizen and issued a Certificate of Naturalization.

Over the last few months, Henry has been enjoying his life as a U.S. citizen. He looks forward to voting in upcoming elections and participating in local government issues. Now in possession of a U.S. passport, he plans to visit loved ones back home. Though this was not the life he imagined for himself before the attack, he is grateful for the opportunities he has had in the U.S. “Here I can be happy again,” Henry says. “In the U.S. I have been given the chance to live a new life.”

Support the IRC in Baltimore: https://www.rescue.org/united-states/baltimore-md.