Staff editorial: Helping immigrants facing domestic abuse

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By the time we as news consumers read about domestic violence it’s usually after someone was seriously injured or killed. The camera crews roll in and knock on the neighbor’s doors and we hear the same comments from the shocked neighbor “Never in a million years would I have thought…he didn’t seem like the type…what a tragedy.” Yes it is a tragedy but when we fail to look at the overall picture and focus instead on the extreme incident we lose sight of what’s important and the chance to prevent it from happening again.

Immigrant women in particular are the most vulnerable population in terms of domestic abuse because of social isolation, financial dependency, and immigration laws. A study by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2004 found that in New York City 51 percent of intimate partner homicide victims were foreign-born, while 45 percent were born in the United States. This is not to say that domestic violence is an issue that especially affects immigrants. Unfortunately domestic abuse is prevalent throughout society, however the immigrant community may not know their rights and where to seek help.

Language barriers and an unfamiliarity with immigration laws keeps immigrant women from speaking out particularly because they believe that laws that would protect them don’t apply to them, either because they don’t know or their partner tells them this is the case. This invisible yet thick suffocating barrier keeps immigrant spouses right where their abusers want them. It creates the perfect victim in their eyes.

A study published by the Georgetown Journal on Poverty law found that 48 percent of Latinos reported an increase of violence at the hands of their partners since they immigrated to the United States. It’s not just Latinos, the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, surveyed immigrant Korean women, concluding that 60 percent of participants had been battered by their husbands.

It is common in these situations for the perpetrator to threaten their spouse with deportation if they speak out against them. If they’re petitioning for a green card then the abuser may also hold that over their heads. As an immigrant it’s easy to feel invisible and marginalized.

What immigrant survivors of domestic abuse may not know is that victims of crimes, such as domestic abuse, that don’t have legal status in the United States can apply for a U-Visa. Since its inception in 2007, 10 million immigrants that have been affected by domestic violence have benefited from the U-Visa. Survivors can benefit from the U-Visa if they help authorities during the investigation or conviction.

Provisions in the Violence Against Women Act also makes it possible for a survivor who is married to an abuser and who are residents or citizens to solicit their own residency without the knowledge of the abuser.

This is a societal and systemic problem that can be addressed if handled correctly and not highlighted only in extreme situations. We and those in a position to advocate for this segment of domestic violence survivors have a responsibility. Programs and those who work in the health care field need to take culture into consideration and have people on staff who understand where these victims are coming from. Not only will they be able to communicate effectively if they speak the same language but the cultural understanding they can offer can make all of the difference.

Because we live in Los Angeles we have all the benefits of living in a city full of immigrants and we are also in a position to help immigrant victims of domestic violence by keeping a watchful eye on them, giving them information that could help them not only leave their abusive environment but apply for a U.S. visa on their own.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority view of the Sundial editorial board and are not necessarily those of the journalism department. Other views on the opinion page are those of the individual writer.