Immigration has been a hot-button issue in the US for many years, and has prompted sweeping reforms under the current administration. In the wake of these reforms, immigrant victims of domestic violence have been put at risk. Consider the story of Ana Bertha Arellano.
According to Susan Ferris's article, Arellano married a U.S. citizen and had two children with him. In 1997, her husband encouraged her to enter the United States illegally and claimed that they would file to adjust her status once they were settled. Instead, her husband used Arellano's undocumented status to keep her under his control and subject to his abuse.
For years, Arellano believed she had no other option but to endure the abuse and hope that someday her husband would help her file for permanent residency. Fortunately, in 2001, Arellano met an attorney who informed her of the provision in the Violence Against Women Act that allows undocumented immigrants who are married to abusive U.S. citizens to apply for a temporary visa and permanent resident status without the sponsorship of their spouses. Through this provision, Arellano was able to obtain a temporary Violence Against Women Act visa and was optimistic that she would eventually be able to obtain a green card.
Arellano owns a restaurant and works as a janitor at night in order have a job that pays for health insurance. She does not receive public assistance of any kind and she has no criminal record. She did everything right, but her green card application has been put on hold indefinitely and her temporary visa is in danger of being revoked. This stall is due to a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to re-examine it's policy of allowing immigrant spouses to remain here when their abusive U.S. citizen or permanent-resident spouses refuse to help them obtain legal status. Without that protection, Arellano, and many other women like her, could end up deported by the same U.S. officials who agreed to shelter her from abuse. Arellano is panicked that she will be forced to uproot her family or leave her children with her abusive spouse. "I don't want anything else but a chance to have some stability for my family," she says.
Over 30,000 women have been granted temporary Violence Against Women Act visas since 1994. Many of these women are now uncertain if they still have a path to citizenship. In addition, the threat of deportation is assuredly keeping even more women from reporting the abuse they are experiencing. One of the best ways to stop family violence is to expose it, but this decision by homeland security may deter women from reporting crimes against them and allow abusers to continue to use their spouse's undocumented status as a tool of oppression without fear of any consequence.
For more information on how immigration reforms are affecting victims of domestic violence check out XicanoPwr and Legal Momentum's Immigrant Women Program.