Redefining Safety for Immigrant survivors of domestic violence
- Policy Advocacy at Maitri 2018
by Zakia Afrin
The past 2 years have thrown a lot of challenges to Americans all over the nation; none as daunting as being a person of color in an immigrant community.
- DACA benefits were rescinded
- Persons from few countries mostly with Muslim majority have been barred from traveling to the US
- Asylum claims have come under unprecedented scrutiny making it almost impossible in certain categories to apply and succeed
- Prospective Asylees are being detained in inhumane conditions while trying to entering the US resulting in deaths of children
- Dependent Visa holders of employment category are living under the threat of losing their employment eligibility
- Funding for Violence Against Women has been frozen and uncertain after January 18, 2019.
This list can go on and on… For a domestic violence victims’ advocacy organization these measures are particularly daunting as it adds to already existing barriers for women and men living within abusive relationship and contemplating freedom from abuse. Most of the new laws and regulations have created confusion and panic within the organizations serving the immigrant population. Together with the stress clients have been facing, DV advocates are experiencing burn-out at an increasing rate. Staff members at Maitri are not different. Listening to the negative stereotyping of immigrants in general and undocumented immigrants in particular is personal for so many among us. While resources are being cut, options for immigration are being reduced, we continue to look for new ways to build supportive network and strategies to address safety concerns for survivors of domestic violence. Our efforts at policy Advocacy goes to the heart of this effort. We meet legislators, policy makers both at state, county and city level and present our policy priorities related discussion in order to bring attention to topics generally swept away to the margins.
In 2018, We collaborated with CPEDV (California Partnership to End Domestic Violence) to meet with legislators in Sacramento. We demanded increased funding for DV and Sexual Assault survivors and highlighted how efforts related to prevention programs are bringing in successful outcomes in promoting healthy relationship among the youth.
During October, the DV awareness month we met with State Assembly member Evan Low to reiterate our demands for continuing funding and protection of immigrant population at the state level. Our meeting with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O Malley was more of rediscovering an ally of survivors of DV and criminal justice reform. We discussed our common interests in providing supportive services to women and men who become victims of crimes.
This year we tried out another interesting venture: city council meeting public comments. Maitri volunteer presented the mission of the agency and brought out the concerns immigrant survivors face while seeking safety for themselves. Specifically, we urged the city of Fremont to
1. Evaluate and improve current language access in the field
2. Offer training on Cultural responsiveness to various local government employees and agencies
3. Involve non- governmental organizations as thought partners while planning city activities
4. Uplift the voices of the minority groups whenever possible as they lack representation in committees and other policy making spaces.
The video is available to watch here: https://fremontca.viebit.com/player.php?hash=Il1tyXs9H7xH
A quote from the first woman on the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’ Connor comes to mind:
“For both men and women the first step in getting power is to become visible to others, and then to put on an impressive show…” - We show up to make our almost invisible immigrant survivors visible to power and we sure hope to put on an impressive show someday to achieve violence-free communities around us.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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 issues 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.