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.