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Immigrant survivors of domestic violence to testify before Congress how immigration enforcement puts abuse victims at risk

LatinaLista — Tomorrow, five women will travel to Capitol Hill to deliver testimony at an ad-hoc congressional hearing examining violence against immigrant women. They will speak on behalf of the hundreds of immigrant victims of domestic violence who have been doubly victimized — first by their attackers and secondly by the U.S. federal government’s current immigration policies.


Each woman is either a victim herself of domestic violence or works with immigrant domestic violence victims.

Each one, according to their testimony released to the media, brings an underlying message to members of Congress — abused immigrant women are being treated as criminals when they should be receiving medical attention and emotional help. Also, as a result of current immigration enforcement policies, these women are opting to live with the abuse rather than call police for help.

(Editor’s note: Highlighted names link to full testimony)

Maria Bolaños is from El Salvador who called the police after feeling threatened by her partner.

I called the police after I had a fight with my partner and was afraid he might hurt me, thinking the police would help me. But instead, they arrested me, thinking that I was illegally selling phone cards because they saw them on the table. I was taken in, fingerprinted and had my photos taken like I was a criminal. They found I was not selling phone cards, but I was turned over to immigration.

…I feel like I made a mistake calling the police when I was afraid, and worry what will happen to all the women out there when they need help. In my community, people simply do not trust the police, especially after what happened to me. I fear for anyone facing domestic violence, or anyone that witnesses a crime, that they won’t call the police for fear of deportation.

Juana Flores is a survivor of domestic violence and also a director of Mujeres

Unidas y Activas, a Latina immigrant organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that helps thousands of women experiencing domestic violence each year.

With the increase in collaboration between police and immigration sweeping the country through programs like “Secure Communities” we are experiencing more and more victims who are scared to call the police, who are staying silent, and risking their lives for the fear of being arrested and then referred to immigration for deportation, which would seperate them from their children and their dreams of a better life.

This is very real for my community, every day there are families experiencing the painful separation of their families… I know that if we are experiencing this in the notably progressive immigrant-friendly San Francisco Bay Area that conditions are much

much worse in other parts of the country, and I am truly scared to think the lives that these policies are putting in danger.

Leslye E. Orloff, vice president and director of the Immigrant Women Program of Legal Momentum, and one of those testifying, offers congressional representatives not just examples of the abuse happening to immigrant women as a result of current immigration policies, but offers a list of suggestions that can be done now to alleviate the pain of these women.

Suggestions range from ending the 287(g) program where local police enter into cooperative agreements with immigration officials to turn over undocumented immigrants in custody to creating sensitivity training for law enforcement officials and federal immigration agents in learning how to identify victims of domestic violence and how to treat them.

When enacting 1996 immigration reforms in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) of 1996, Congress underscored its intent to protect battered immigrants by adding battered immigrant women and children to the categories of immigrants qualified to receive welfare benefits that prior legislation took away. IIRAIRA’s restoration of benefits for battered immigrants reflected Congress’s recognition that economic survival is a significant reason victims remain with abusers. IIRAIRA enables victims to break the cycle of economic dependency on an abusive spouse, partner, parent, or employer.

(Editor’s note: Links to additional testimony: Rev. Linda Olson Peeble; Miriam W. Yeung,executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.)

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