Ana Rafael's dream to live without fear in America turned into a nightmare 10 months ago.
Rafael was brought to the U.S. by her parents at the age of 6 and grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, as an undocumented immigrant.
She began working to legalize her status in the U.S. after receiving protection from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
In May, her lawyer arranged an interview with U.S. immigration officials at a consulate in Juarez, Mexico.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
"You're ready for the final step, this is what we were waiting for," Rafael recalled her lawyer as saying.
Except the outcome wasn't what she expected. Instead, the 25-year-old was denied a permit and banned from entering the U.S. for 10 years.
"I was surrounded by people that I didn't know. I didn't have my family with me in that moment, so it was really hard," she recalled.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
Rafael was stuck in a foreign land with extended family she barely knew and a language she could hardly speak. Her dreams came crushing down, and her fears became a reality.
"I couldn't just start all over again in another country that -- I don't know much. I'm Mexican, but I'm just not used to that life over there," she said.
NBC10 Boston first spoke to Rafael in 2021 shortly after her interview in Mexico. Since then, her family and friends have been fighting to bring her back.
"I felt like I was losing myself, too," said Rafael's twin sister, Maria.
Maria knew she had to do whatever she could to be reunited with her other half.
"I started reaching out to people, asking for help spreading my sister's case," she said.
In the months that followed, the Rafael family galvanized support on social media, pleaded to local politicians and found an attorney willing to take the case.
Their efforts paid off. In January, Rafael received notice that she would be temporarily allowed to come back to Massachusetts to continue to fight her case.
Rafael then flew back in February and was reunited with family at Boston's Logan Airport.
Now back in America, Rafael is beyond grateful to all who have given her another shot at her dream.