Monday, February 18, 2008

Immigration and VAWA

Recently, I've been blogging for Women's Resource Center concerning how many survivors of domestic violence are being revictimized , by the Department of Homeland Security's recent efforts to reform immigration.

After doing two entries concerning different policy decisions, it occurred to me that combining the posts would also make for an appropriate blog entry about what I think is an extremely troubling trend.

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

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 the Department of 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.

These immigration reforms are not just threatening undocumented victims of domestic violence. Some of these new regulations will have far reaching consequences for undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants, and native born citizens alike. In an effort to standardize the information provided on driver's licenses throughout the nation, Homeland Security advocated the regulations found in the Real ID Act which mandate minimum standards for government issued ID cards and provides for a national database of ID holders rather than the current disconnected system of statewide databases. Initially, proponents of the Real ID Act were unable to pass it on its own, and so they attached it as a rider to a military spending bill and the Act passed without debate. Opponents of the Real ID Act worry about how it will affect victims of domestic violence and stalking.

Every year, about 1,000 domestic violence victims legally change their Social Security numbers in an attempt to elude people who may pose threats, and many more change their legal names, according to figures compiled by advocacy groups.

But hiding from stalkers may become more difficult under a federal law called the Real ID Act that's scheduled to take effect on May 11.

Anna Broach wrote a comprehensive piece on the shortfalls of the Real ID Act with respect to domestic violence on NewsBlog last week as part one of a four part series. While she acknowledges that the Real ID Act does provide an "alternate address" (a fake address that will forward to a real address) that can be used for victims of domestic violence, she also points out that this protection is only available by court order. Broach states that the principal concern for most advocacy groups is the mandated interlinking of state DMV databases because it renders this court ordered "alternate address" ineffective.

The final rule says that both an individual's "full legal name" and "true address" must be stored in the DMV database, regardless of what's displayed on the card and encoded on its bar code. It also requires that motor vehicle departments scan and store "source documents," such as birth certificates, to verify a driver's license applicant's identity.

The Department of Homeland Security refuses to comment on how they will provide protection to those trying to hide from stalkers, saying only that the exchange of information between the states will be "limited." Cindy Southworth, technology project director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence pointed out the problems that come along with giving that much access to DMV employees.

Given that there are less than six degrees of separation between most abusers and a friend or relative who works for the DMV, we are concerned about victims' location information housed in state databases that could be searched nationally.... Prior to national search ability, a victim could move to a different state and increase her safety and privacy, but national search functionality could place countless victims at risk.

Without a comprehensive plan to protect victims of stalking and domestic violence, this national database could cripple their hope for a new life free from fear. The current deadline for implementation of the Real ID Act is May 11, 2008. However, it may be postponed again because of a lack of support from the States. To show your support for survivors, contact your representative and tell them to speak out against the Real ID Act until these changes are made.

For more information on how immigration reforms are affecting victims of domestic violence check out XicanoPwr and Legal Momentum's Immigrant Women Program.


Anonymous said...

VAWA based immigration is sometimes abused to expedite a residency seeker's immigration process as well in the absence of abuse.

I am also a survivor of domestic abuse which included threats of castration, assault and emotional abuse by an immigrant spouse. I petitioned for her residency as soon as we married. Exactly two years to date in country, the residency seeker made false abuse claims.

I will disclose all police reports, investigation reports and court transcripts after everything has been settled.

Visit to read more about my story.

Kind Regards

Rachel said...

Sean, we are very sorry for any troubles you may have had. We don't need to see court documents or anything like that for two reasons.

1) You don't have to prove anything to people you've never met.

2) As painful as your situation may have been or may continue to be, it is the exception and not the rule and therefore it does not contradict the values projected in this post.

As long as there is any type of public policy there will be someone who abuses it. That is not a reason to penalize those who have done nothing wrong. False reports are very rare, and we won't condone the current measures the government is taking.