Pakistani woman, a victim of an acid attack, on her way to becoming a US citizen

May 22, 2012 3:28:04 PM PDT
A Pakistani woman who had to undergo extensive reconstruction surgery after being attacked with acid is now on her way to becoming an American citizen. It's all happening thanks in part to Catholic Charities, which is helping thousands more achieve the same goal.

Her life changed when she was only 16 years old, the sole breadwinner for her parents and siblings who refused to renounce her faith. She paid a terrible price, but she also gained a new life.

In some ways, Catholic Charities is like Ellis Island where refugees and immigrants first try to lay claim to a new life and country. In the past 19 years, the pathway to US citizenship began here for 3,000 people. And now one more is close to being added.

"I had no teeth, no cheek. I didn't have my eye," said Julie Aftab.

Ten years ago, Julie Aftab was in her native Pakistan when she had battery acid thrown on her face and poured down her throat. She was singled out she says because she is Christian.

"That's what is the difference between those people and me. As a Christian, the first thing I was taught is to forgive," Aftab said.

She survived the attack, but it didn't end there. She was poisoned while in the hospital then later shot. And a price was on her head because she wouldn't renounce her faith.

A benefactor brought her to the United States and at 16 she underwent surgery after surgery at Shriners Hospital in Galveston. Then she began the rest of her life and the road led her to Catholic Charities.

"I told them I don't have any money, I need help," she said.

It has taken time but Aftab is now on the verge of gaining US citizenship. She's also about to get her accounting degree at the University of Houston, just one of thousands of immigrants and refugees helped at Catholic Charities.

"They are amazing human beings who've done and survived so much that I can't imagine hearing the stories," said Rebecca Koford, Catholic Charities attorney.

And one more thing -- Aftab is now engaged. No longer a stranger in a strange land, she is home in a place so many take for granted.

"Some people say there are no angels, there is no God, I see it right here, right now," Aftab said.

She is having more surgery, not for reconstruction, but tumors that she says she's been told because the chemicals from the acid attack still linger in her blood.

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