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Undocumented status keeps many abuse victims silent

Domestic abusers use a number of methods to control their victims and keep them in their abusive relationships. Many victims, particularly women, are financially dependent on the husband or boyfriend who’s abusing them. Some fear that if they report the abuse, they will be separated from their children or that those children, other family members or pets will be harmed or worse.

Too many women feel trapped in abusive relationships because they are undocumented immigrants. Often, they’ve moved to the U.S. to join a husband or boyfriend who is documented. They have no other family to turn to here.

They fear that if they report their abuser to law enforcement, either police or their abuser will notify immigration authorities and they’ll be deported. If they have children who were born here and therefore are citizens, they risk being separated from them. As a result, they stay silent.

There is legal help for these victims of domestic violence if they know how to get it. Crisis centers in the region near the U.S./Mexico border provide help to undocumented victims of domestic abuse, including helping them get legal assistance. What legal recourse do they have?

The Violence Against Women Act, signed into law over 20 years ago, allows immigrants suffering domestic violence to apply for immigration relief. This can help them get immigrant visas, work permits and eventually legal residency.

One police chief in a Texas city along the border said that he has seen a significant decrease in recent years in the number of domestic abuse cases reported. However, this doesn’t mean that the problem is dissipating. He attributes it, ironically, to Texas’ “zero tolerance policy” that mandates police to arrest someone if they have probable cause to suspect abuse. That has made victims even more wary of calling authorities.

While many victims of domestic violence feel that they’re alone, there are more resources than ever here in Nevada and across the country to help them and their children get out of the situation. Shelters and other facilities can provide a safe haven for mothers and children as well as childcare, job training and more. Meanwhile, attorneys can take legal steps. In addition to the legal options for immigrants discussed here, attorneys can seek protective orders and provide legal guidance.

Source: Fusion, “When immigration status is used as a weapon for domestic abuse,” Sacha von Oldershausen, accessed June 16, 2016

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