Maitri Blog

5 Immigration barriers faced by survivors of abuse: An Advocate’s Perspective
by Zakia Afrin

Immigration can be difficult even when people opt for it. Cultural shock, ideological challenges, linguistic divides may expose human beings to trauma. The helplessness can be compounded many times over when a loved one poses a threat and instills a sense of fear. Many survivors we work with identify with this situation. Advocates point out some specific challenges that immigrant survivors face:

  1. Immigrant survivors may face additional barriers in seeking help or leaving an abusive relationship. Complexities can arise due to lack of information, cultural barriers including language shortcomings, immigration status, financial dependencies, and expectations of law enforcement among many others. Today only two third of the world’s countries recognize domestic violence as a separate category of crime. Depending on the countries people immigrate from, their understanding of what constitutes domestic violence and how the society will respond may vary. These issues often impact a survivor’s decision to seek help or carry on within abuse.
  2. Leaving an abuser may not result in a happily-ever –after situation for a survivor. Immigration status play a big role in determining whether a survivor will be eligible to receive public assistance, secure employment or even stay in the United States on their own. Though immigration related benefits exist, they do not apply to everyone. Immigration relief for survivors like VAWA self-petition, U visa, T visa have stringent requirements that are difficult to meet. Many times children born in the US to a parent who is dependent on an abusive partner further complicate the issue. Imagine the dilemma of a mother on a dependent spouse visa, who must return to her home country if the marriage is terminated, without the guarantee of being able to take her US citizen child with her.
  3. Making a hard decision to leave an abusive spouse despite barriers and an uncertain future in the US, oftentimes proves to be more difficult than one would expect. Lack of language access at different level of points of contact for a survivor is astounding. With the exception of Santa Clara County and few others, immigrant survivors face challenges in communicating with law enforcement, court systems and hearings due to lack of  interpreters. Maitri has heard of incidents from survivors where neighbors, children or even relatives of the abuser were used as interpreters and the truth never came out. In many instances, survivors have to depend on bringing in their own interpreters for hearings. Where the court provides interpreters, most of the Asian languages are not certified by the Judicial council leaving room for inadequate and improper interpretation.
  4. Comprehensive immigration reform is likely to benefit the immigrant community in general and survivors of domestic violence in particular. Without the fear of deportation, financial and immigration related dependence on an abusive partner, lack of access to justice systems and discrimination embedded in relevant social structures, all individuals can thrive. It will allow survivors to have more choices in their lives than currently available.
  5. Cultural Stereotyping hurts all immigrants including survivors of domestic violence. Selective enforcement of laws that apply to everyone and enactment of laws based on cultural stereotypes may deter survivors belonging to specific cultural groups from reaching out for help. An example of such effort would be sex selective abortion ban laws currently enforced in 8 States which disproportionately affect Women of Asian origin in general and Indian and Chinese women in particular,

In our everyday work at Maitri, we deal with these facts and engage in community education around them. Within Maitri, we are increasing capacity to provide adequate linguistic and culturally informed support for our clients by providing immigration assistance and trained interpreters. At the county, state and federal level, we are bringing about these discussions to improve services for immigrant survivors. As we approach 25 years of Maitri services, we look towards a future where everyone in  California irrespective of immigration status will be able to thrive individually and as a community.

Redefining Safety for Immigrant survivors of domestic violence
- making policy advocacy a priority
by Zakia Afrin

Working with immigrant survivors for little shy of a decade at Maitri , I have learned that defining safety for a survivor must include more than physical security. Domestic violence is a traumatic experience in itself, combining the complexities of immigration status and negative stereotyping, linguistic barriers, emotional hurdles, family ties and many others only add to the considerations a survivor must address before thinking about leaving the abuser. While the Domestic violence support system is focused on getting a survivor to safety, for the most part it fails to addresses the consequences an immigrant survivor may face once the crisis is over. As Maitri continues to grow from a small direct service providing organization to a leading member organization of the domestic violence movement statewide, we are embracing policy advocacy as an integral part of our work. Last year, we have had increased visibility locally, statewide and nationwide within advocacy circles.

Maitri participated in Policy Advocacy Day organized by California Partnership to end Domestic Violence where we visited State Assembly members’ offices and demanded policies that support survivors and enhance prevention efforts to eradicate domestic violence.CPEDV_Public Policy Advocay Day_2015

We collaborated with South Asian Women’s Organizations under the leadership of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) in presenting our concerns regarding immigration, access to healthcare, reproductive justice, prevention efforts, racial justice and forced marriages as it specifically affect South Asian women in the US and asking for their prompt action in this matters. In the National South Asian Summit we presented Maitri’s work as it relates to promoting reproductive justice in general and sex selective abortion ban in particular.

Over the summer, we have connected with Congresswoman Anna Esho Maitri Research & Policy Intern, Sanjana with Senior Staff member, Anne Ream at her local office. Our research and policy intern handed over a letter detailing our concerns and requests to her senior staff member.

Supporting our goals of increased federal funding for Domestic Violence programs, immigration reform, background checks for firearms purchases, reproductive rights and women’s health care, she writes, “ Maitri’s mission of helping South Asian Women to live free of domestic abuse, make informed choices and realize their strengths is vitally important in a community where many are isolated and uninformed about our custom and culture”.

In September, Maitri legal program staff attended Annual membership meeting of CPEDV in Sacramento and discussed priority policy issuMaitri Legal Advocacy Team at CPEDV Annual Membership eventes for the year 2016. Maitri put forth a proposal seeking resolution from the State Assembly to condemn and oppose Sex selection abortion ban that criminalizes women seeking abortion and perpetuates gender stereotype against Asian immigrant women.

We celebrate October, domestic violence awareness month with continued efforts to create immigrant friendly policies in our county by speaking out against Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) that may potentially create further distrust of authorities within the immigrant community.
Direct Services without security of favorable policy can only achieve a false sense of safety among immigrant survivors of domestic violence. We are making it a priority to have our voices heard. Precise and clear. Join us in our journey to promote a society without violence for everyone.