Recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, CLINIC highlights the large, unmet need for immigration legal services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking.
Abusers, offenders and perpetrators of crime often use a person’s lack of immigration status as a principal control mechanism and means of exploitation. If immigration legal services were more readily available, more survivors of crime could regularize their status, leave abusive relationships, and cooperate more fully with law enforcement to convict offenders. With this in mind, CLINIC, community partners, and the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) are taking steps to increase the availability of charitable legal immigration services and boost support for the victims of gender-based violence.
Lack of capacity to respond to immigration issues puts survivors of crime at a severe disadvantage. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agency recognition and staff accreditation is the Department of Justice’s certification of nonprofit legal immigration programs and their staffs. It allows non-attorneys to practice immigration law as authorized representatives. Increasing the number of BIA-recognized agency locations and accredited staff is essential to responding to the immigration legal service needs of immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
With the support of the Office on Violence Against Women, CLINIC has provided grantees with substantive immigration law training and technical assistance with the application for BIA recognition and accreditation. Tapestri is one of many programs that have benefitted from this partnership.
Tapestri’s mission is to assist refugee and immigrant families affected by human trafficking and domestic violence through direct services that include preparing protective orders, filing police reports, applying for victim compensation, Medicaid and other social services.
“We assist clients with preparing documentation for VAWA immigration benefits, U Visa, T Visa, and Adjustment of Status,” said Yamile Morales and Limia Obadi of the organization’s Anti-human Trafficking Direct Services. Tapestri partners with law firms and assists attorneys in collecting documentation. The program also offers outreach to shelters and law enforcement agencies in becoming culturally competent in how they provide services to survivors of violence and human trafficking. Tapestri also operates an emergency hotline for clients, accompanies them to court and generally supports them as long as their cases are active.
“One of the many obstacles that these communities face is the lack of proper documentation that would allow them to live self-sufficient, violence-free lives,” said Morales and Obadi. Thanks to Tapestri’s BIA agency recognition and staff accreditation, legal services will be more accessible to communities in Georgia.
“We will reduce the waiting period to apply for immigration relief, giving clients the opportunity to continue to heal.” They added: “We are excited to see our programs grow as we are able to reach more families affected by violence.” Domestic violence is far-reaching and requires a multi-faceted response from varying touch-points for both immigrant and native-born communities.
“Faith leaders are often called upon to be first responders in domestic violence situations,” said Lauri Przybysz, co-founder of Catholics for Family Peace, in a blog post she wrote on the topic.
If you are currently an OVW granted DV/SA program and would like to learn more about this project, please register for an account at https://cliniclegal.org/user/register . Once your account has been activated, please visit CLINIC’s new OVW Project page at https://cliniclegal.org/ovw .