Most of the people in the US are descended from immigrants, and immigrants arrive here from all over the world under a wide variety of circumstances. As we know, domestic violence affects individuals from all walks of life; the same is true of immigrant survivors!
There are many barriers that immigrant survivors often face. Here are four specific types of obstacles:
- Language: Immigrant survivors fear that nobody will be able to assist them in their primary language and furthermore are often intimidated by English.
- Finances: Immigrant survivors usually end up in a financially stressful situation. While many may want to seek help, they are often afraid that they cannot afford such services.
- Culture: It may be potentially uncomfortable to walk into an agency whose staff are of a different culture from that of a survivor.
- Misinformation: Many times the abuser will spread misinformation to the survivor and blame them for the violence and/or threaten them with deportation.
W.O.M.A.N., Inc. works with other programs/agencies to help immigrant survivors of domestic violence. We offer bilingual and culturally sensitive services to Spanish-speaking survivors. In addition, we provide education about legal options, as well as referrals and advocacy. In the case of undocumented immigrants, these rights are limited to virtually nonexistent.
One example of the many people who we have helped is “Carla,” an undocumented immigrant, who came to W.O.M.A.N., Inc. seeking help after tolerating years of abuse.
Carla, whose name has been changed for confidentiality purposes, entered into a domestic violence relationship after coming to the United States from Mexico with her three children. Her partner became emotionally abusive, isolating her, insulting her, and controlling her. When he finally beat her within earshot of her daughter, the police arrested him and took her to the hospital, but she was frightened and misinformed about the laws in the United States and downplayed her situation with the police out of fear of losing her children. She then filed a restraining order against her abuser, but after he was released from jail, he disregarded the restraining order, and became even more controlling. She suffered a significant amount of physical and mental harm as a result of the abuse she received in this relationship.
Finally, she was given information about W.O.M.A.N., Inc. services by a friend and contacted our agency. She first reached out to W.O.M.A.N., Inc. by calling our crisis line, in which she was able to speak to a Spanish-speaking Domestic Violence Peer Counselor. Soon after, she came into W.O.M.A.N., Inc. and sat down with staff from our agency to discuss her situation. Together with the Latina Program team member, the two of them discussed her options and what goals she would like to see happen in her situation. As a result of that meeting, she joined the Latina Program and began case management services at W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Through the program, she was able to access our therapy program, learn her legal rights to remain in this country, and now is pursuing her education to become a teacher. She has also left her abusive relationship.
Carla has now graduated from the Latina Program and is a member of the Echando Pa’lante support group. Carla stated that her main hope is for the approval of her U visa. U visas are given to immigrants who are victims of crime (including domestic violence), providing them with temporary legal status and permission to work. She is expected to get the visa within several months. Thanks to crucial guidance provided by W.O.M.A.N., Inc. during the application process, this formerly undocumented immigrant will be able to stay in the this country. Her use of the W.O.M.A.N., Inc. resources—the Therapy Program and the Echando Pa’lante survivor empowerment group—transformed her initial desperation at being in an abusive relationship into a sense of hope and confidence for the future.
Catherine Connor-Moore, Latina Program assistant, assures immigrant survivors that everything is absolutely confidential. Connor-Moore adds that there are a lot of layers that come with cases of undocumented survivors. For example, intersectional oppression can arise out of the combination of various oppressions, which, together, produce something unique and distinct from any one form of discrimination standing alone, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In the case of an immigrant survivor, this might allude to being a woman, of color, who doesn’t speak English and/or works under the table. At W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Connor-Moore describes a few resources that are available to survivors, such as developing job skills, access to health care, and restraining orders.
In addition, the Latina Program includes Echando Pa’lante. Meaning “Moving Forward,” it is a Latina survivor empowerment group, which meets once a month. Survivors can attend it after they have graduated from their initial case management program.
After graduating from the Latina Program, survivors often need continued support. Started in 2011, Echando Pa’lante provides them with an invaluable support network. The group hosts workshops, trainings, and presentations on topics requested by participants, all in Spanish. In the past year, members of the group have received trainings to start their own businesses, learned about their rights pertaining to immigration and how to be a domestic violence educator, and participated in a women’s health bingo about early signs of breast cancer.
“We are here to support survivors, regardless of what their immigration status is. A major goal of W.O.M.A.N., Inc. is to show survivors that they have worth and value and they deserve to be in a safe relationship,” Connor-Moore said.
~ Written by Sandy Lopez, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Social Media Volunteer
Carla is just one of the many immigrant survivors our agency helps every day. Each week, our agency is contacted by dozens of more survivors in need of help. Please help us continue to provide support to vulnerable population by donating to our agency today!