Among the Latino community, the fear of getting deported, having their children taken away, or facing more violence are the top barriers perceived to prevent Latino immigrants from reporting domestic violence and sexual assault, a new report found. At least 41 percent of surveyed Latinos believe that the main reason that Latino immigrant victims don’t seek help is because of deportation fears.
Culling interviews from 800 Latino men and women, the No Más report found that 56 percent of surveyed Latinos know a domestic violence victim, while one in four people know a victim of sexual assault. Among the younger Latino generation, the pattern of violence was about the same: half of all surveyed Latinos under the age of 30 reported that they know a victim of domestic violence, while one in four reported that they know someone who was a victim of sexual assault. The top reason that Latinos indicated that victims don’t come forward or seek help is because of the fear of deportation, closely followed by having their children taken away, and facing more violence.
Juan Carlos Areán, senior director of the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities*, told ThinkProgress, “the fear of deportation comes from anecdotal evidence … though it’s not prevalent, when immigrants call the police, they might end up getting arrested themselves because of the suspicion that they’re undocumented. This.. builds enough fear for the community to be afraid.”
One domestic violence victim threatened with deportation is Delfina Rojas Ayona, who married a man that beat, strangled, and threatened her. According to a biography provided for ThinkProgress, Rojas Ayona’s husband reportedly “bludgeoned her in the street with a wood board studded with nails” and “beat her with a loaded gun as she held their four-year-old daughter.”
When Rojas Ayona’s husband crossed the southern U.S. border from Mexico where they lived, she said that his family continued to abuse her as she struggled to work and support her children. She later made the journey as well. When she arrived in the United States, Rojas Ayona’s husband continued to abuse her, but now additionally threatened her to call the “migra” (immigration officers) if she didn’t do what he told her.
The turning point in her decision to contact the police came when he tried to kill her by choking and suffocating her with a pillow when she was asleep. Her children were hurt when they tried to intervene and her brother was stabbed protecting her. She finally called the police who took her husband away, but was released the next day. Rojas Ayona was granted an order of protection, but she remained fearful that he would come back to kill her.
Rojas Ayona has since been able to apply for a special visa known as a U-visa, which provides potential legal status to victims of violence who cooperate with police. After three years of continuous presence in the United States, U-visa holders can apply for lawful permanent resident status. She now works to educate female survivors of domestic violence.
Rojas Ayona is considered “lucky.”
“In terms of the U visa process, it’s a complicated process and not everybody qualifies,” Areán said. “There are some serious conditions, like you have to be married and you have to cooperate with the police. When a woman is afraid for her life, it’s an unreasonable burden on her.”
Just last year alone, there were 26,023 U-visa petitions for the 10,000-per-year annual cap. The Los Angeles Times reported that there was “even a wait to get to on the waiting list” since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stopped reviewing applications submitted after December 2013.
Another female survivor of domestic abuse, Julieta Garibay, is also now drawing strength from her experience to help undocumented immigrants fight for significance in the United States. Garibay, the deputy advocacy director at United We Dream, came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 12. Garibay got married in 2010 to an U.S. citizen, who emotionally abused her and threatened to withhold petitioning for her legal status.
Her ex-husband warned her at the time, “If you were to get deported, I would keep the children in the U.S.” Garibay told ThinkProgress that they didn’t have children but often talked about it during their nine-year relationship. “That was overwhelming because that had never been brought up before.”
Garibay said that she struggled telling her mother about her divorce. “That’s the hardest part to tell people you love. At least for me … from the Latino perspective, when you get married, you get married for good.” Garibay has since been able to adjust her immigration status last year through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which allows immigrant victims to self-petition for lawful permanent resident status without the cooperation of an abusive spouse, parent, or adult child. As the American Immigration Council explained, VAWA “allows the victim to confidentially file the self-petition and attain lawful permanent resident status without separating from the abuser, thereby allowing the victim to leave the abuser after lawful permanent resident status has been obtained.”
Areán is hopeful that the campaign could help raise awareness about domestic violence. “One of the things we felt so strongly about the No Mas campaign is that … there is extraordinary strength. There is a lot of good news in this study too. Latinos are already intervening with victims, the majority of responses said that. And the great majority are hopeful of solving — about changing the situation.”
The No Más report was commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women for Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network and NO MORE and conducted by Lake Research Partners. The findings are going to help shape a No Más campaign to be launched in the fall with help from Verizon.
As the Huffington Post pointed out, “immigration advocates often cite domestic violence as a key reason to keep police out of immigration matters. Police sometimes arrest both parties at first and then charge only the abuser, but simply taking the victim’s fingerprints could put the victim at risk of deportation. Law enforcement in many jurisdictions has resisted working with immigration authorities in part to encourage victims to feel safe in coming forward.”
Immigrants are also afraid to report other types of crime. A 2013 survey of more than 2,000 Latinos found that more than four in ten Latinos are less likely to report crime and 45 percent are less likely to volunteer information about crimes. when local police are involved in enforcing immigration law. The same survey found that 70 percent of undocumented Latino immigrants indicated that they would neither file a police report for being a victim nor for being a witness because “they fear that police officers will use this interaction as an opportunity to inquire into their immigration status or that of people they know.”
*Areán explained that his organization name uses the atmark (@) symbol because “Spanish is a very gendered language…our feelings is to create language that is more inclusive. We don’t have permission yet, but the at[mark] is meant to replace the [Latin]a and the [Latin]o, which are the genders. But the problem is that we don’t have a way to pronounce it yet.”