October is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During that month, there are events, petitions, fundraisers, and even proclamations. While this is all well and good, domestic violence doesn't end on the 31st for the thousands upon thousands of women and children impacted by domestic violence each year.
As you can imagine, immigrant women and children are not immune from domestic violence. However, their options for seeking help are quite limited at this point in the United States. Undocumented women feel that if they speak up about the violence they incur on a daily basis, they may be arrested, charged, and ultimately deported for being undocumented. In fact, studies have shown that immigrants without legal status are 50% less likely to contact police. For most undocumented immigrant women, there is only one choice - to keep quiet.
The U.S. is currently debating immigration reform. Many advocate that this reform will bring with it a safe avenue for immigrants to report crimes of domestic violence without facing legal consequences because of their status in the country. Although the institution and recent reauthorization of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) has been working to correct the issues related to immigrants and domestic violence, it is not nearly enough.
VAWA was established to aid female immigrants who have been subjected to domestic violence. The law allows for certain non-citizen women to receive lawful status without requiring their abusive citizen husbands petition for them. In some situations, women are not required to file any of the regular paperwork associated with gaining residency in the U.S.
While VAWA offers certain benefits, it represents only a very small amount of immigrant women. The program is not sophisticated enough to ensure safety and protection for all undocumented immigrant women suffering from domestic violence.
In addition to VAWA, those affected by domestic violence can also seek assistance by petitioning for a U visa. U visas are reserved for immigrants that have been victims of criminal activity and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse because of it. Among other crimes, this section includes rape, incest, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
While this category of visa initially sounds like an ideal way for survivors of domestic violence to find solace, there are some disturbing requirements. For instance, to be approved for this specific visa, the victim must assist law enforcement in the investigation and potential prosecution of the offender. This may not be such a difficult task for some, but for those that are victims of sexual crimes this proves to be a much more painful and challenging undertaking.
Confronting a perpetrator of domestic violence forces a survivor to maintain contact with that person. Generally, perpetrators of domestic violence have an enormous amount of control over their partners. For many, this control revolves around money, children, and societal pressures. When this control is added to the fact that undocumented immigrants are concerned about being deported, illegal immigrants often feel forced to endure their volatile relationship.
Another relevant issue is the fact that many immigrants have deep religious beliefs that preach divorce or separation is against the tenets of the religion. Not to mention the fact that some religions believe that physical violence against a wife is acceptable. These religious convictions tend to prohibit immigrant women from speaking out against the violence they incur at home.
Until the nation takes a firm stance on immigration reform, women and children in Arizona and the rest of the country will continue to be abused by husbands and fathers as these men maintain their dominance and control over their families. Current immigration policies and procedures do not protect women and children as well as they should. The U.S. has a responsibility to ensure all people are safe, no matter their immigration status.