By Amy Alvarez, Ruben Zorillo, Rosa Rodriguez, Melissa Duran and Claudia Oviedo from the Social Work Department.
Because of the punitive tactics of the immigration policies in the US policy, undocumented Latinas are at disadvantage when facing domestic violence.
The NYPD responds to 250,000 domestic incidents annually or around 600 calls per day. There are few statistics regarding the number of undocumented Latinas who report domestic violence in NYC.
The fear of reporting domestic violence derives from skepticism and distrust in the police and judicial system, distrust in intervention services, fear of the linguistic incompetence of shelters and social workers, fear of separation from children, fear of the incarceration of an abuser who might be the sole financial provider, fear of isolation from family and friends, and fear of deportation or removal.
Undocumented Latinas suffering from domestic violence also worry that their abusers will prevent them from securing lawful permanent residency, and abusers often use their partners’ immigration status as a tool of control, forcing them to remain in the relationship.
When children are involved, the victims face more obstacles to report the violence. Currently, the most common path to obtaining permanent residency and citizenship in the US is through family members; other options are rarely available.
Furthermore, if an undocumented woman decides to divorce her abuser, she will no longer be eligible for family sponsorship which may increase her chances of deportation.
The effects of domestic violence reverberate far beyond the victim. Children who have witnessed domestic violence may experience life long psychological and emotional effects due to the abuse.
The Mayor’s Office reported that in 2012, domestic violence was the primary cause of murders for women in New York City — 68 percent that year with the highest reported incidences occurring in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
A recent study done by Future Without Violence, a non-profit organization that develops professional training programs and takes public action against domestic violence, found that 51 percent of intimate partner homicide victims were foreign born women. In the same study, 48 percent of Latinas reported that their partners’ violence increased once they migrated to the US.
Victims of domestic violence, especially those who are undocumented, need to know that there is a way out. Most undocumented women suffering from domestic violence are not aware of the city, state, and immigration laws that can help them live a life free of abuse.
Since 2013, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), undocumented women suffering from domestic violence who are married to US Citizens or permanent lawful residents are allowed to file for independent legal status without relying on their abusive spouses.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 also created a U-Visa status which allows undocumented women to obtain lawful status in the US
Domestic violence continues to be a leading public health threat to all women. Domestic violence is not a private matter; IT IS A CRIME. Strive to be more aware of the pervasive nature of domestic violence, and be more vocal about this historically ‘silent’ issue.
We must do more to recognize the signs of abuse, encourage community responsibility, educate children in our schools, and speak to our local politicians.
Below are some resources to assist women, their children, and even batterers overcome the cycle of domestic violence.
– Safe Horizon: (800) 621-4673
– The Children’s Aid Society (212) 503-6842
– Emergency Housing Hotline: (800) 994-6494
– New York Immigration Hotline: (800) 566-7636
Free Legal Services
– The Legal Aid Society: (212) 577-3300
– Safe Horizon Legal Services: (212) 577-3220 Ext. 109
– New York Legal Assistance Group: (212) 750-0800
– Brooklyn Batterers Prevention Program: (516) 539-0150