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Immigrants and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
By: Julia Alanen*
Each year, approximately 1.4 million persons are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Institute for Justice. Domestic violence can include physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or even financial abuse. It can occur in public or in private life. Domestic violence cuts across gender, race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic lines. The victim can be male or female, and a batterer can be the victim’s spouse, child, parent or other family member. Domestic violence can occur within the context of marriage, live-in family members, dating or in a non-intimate co-parenting relationship.
This month, CLINIC raises up the too often unheard voices of battered immigrant men, women and children, and celebrates the extraordinary courage of survivors who, with the help of dedicated advocates, escape the devastating cycle of domestic violence and rebuild their lives as productive members of their communities. Non-citizens can be exceptionally vulnerable to victimization. Lack of legal permanent resident (LPR) status prevents many domestic violence victims from availing themselves of the laws and services they need to protect themselves and their children.
A battered immigrant woman may endure years of abuse at the hands of her U.S. Citizen spouse for fear that her deportation would permanently separate her from her U.S. Citizen children. Lack of employment authorization and ineligibility for public benefits can render a battered immigrant parent incapable of independently supporting her children. Batterers frequently use the victim’s lack of LPR status as a weapon, threatening to withdraw the victim’s family-based immigration petition or to have the victim deported if she reports the abuse to police or cooperates in the batterer’s investigation and prosecution.
Congress has recognized the uniquely vulnerable status of battered immigrants by enacting special legal remedies for immigrant victims of violent crimes, including the U visa, the T visa, the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) self-petition, VAWA cancellation of removal and, in some cases, asylum. These remedies enable eligible immigrant crime victims and their dependents to remain in the United States, avail themselves of protective laws and resources not available in their countries of origin, obtain employment authorization and, in many cases, eventually secure legal permanent residency and naturalize. U and T visas and legal permanent residency based thereon are conditioned upon the victim’s cooperation in the criminal investigation or prosecution. The fact that Congress affords many victims LPR status, even after the conclusion of the criminal investigation or prosecution, illustrates the United States’ commitment to the principle that a victim’s right to be free from violence, including her right to protection from re-victimization and retribution for testifying against her perpetrator, should not be tied to her immigrant status, but rather to her human dignity.
Without the assistance of qualified, affordable immigration legal services providers, immigrant crime victims and their children could not pursue the immigration status to which they are lawfully entitled, and which they require in order to report violent crimes without fear of deportation and to safely participate in the U.S. justice system. Under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), CLINIC’s national Violence Against Women Immigration Project provides training and technical assistance to the dedicated legal advocates who help battered immigrant men, women and children to escape the cycle of violence, obtain lawful status and rebuild their lives.
*Julia is the Project Coordinator for CLINIC's VAWA Immigration Project
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