Why We Must Protect Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence

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Why We Must Protect Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence

By Sameera Hafiz
We Belong Together

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the years this month has provided us all the opportunity to reflect and refocus on the experiences of survivors of domestic violence and untangle the issue from the tired public debate: the NFL responses, the Chris Browns, and the persistent question, “why does she stay?”

Earlier this spring, I witnessed Adriana Cazorla, a YWCA member and survivor of domestic abuse, as she bravely shared her story publicly before members of Congress. She detailed how her husband, under duress, forced her to migrate to the U.S. For 12 years he physically and psychologically abused her, and threatened to take their kids and have her deported if she dared to leave him. Eventually, he reported her to immigration and she was detained. She spent four terrifying months locked up in detention, wondering if her children were safe and uncertain about whether she would ever be reunited with them.  Through her persistent strength and bravery, however, Adriana was able to get custody of her children, gain independence, and benefit from legal protections for immigrant survivors of violence.

Now Adriana inspires others as a YWCA volunteer by sharing her story and talking to women living with family violence about their options. I wish Adriana was with me last month when I met with survivors at an immigration detention center in Karnes, Texas.  The facility houses over 500 women and children – many who have fled domestic violence, sexual abuse, forced gang recruitment and other forms of violence. The women and children locked up in the Karnes facility face uncertainty about their future. Will they be allowed to stay in the U.S. or forced to return to the dangers and trauma they fled? Many of the women expressed fear. Will their children be taken from them, will they be put in jail for years?

Since I visited Karnes in September, allegations of sexual abuse by facility staff have emerged – stories of guards seeking sexual favors in the middle of the night and groping women in front of their children. I wish Adriana could have talked to some of these women – as an example of someone who survived family violence and the re-traumatizing effects of detention – and redefined her family as one that is strong and free of violence.

As We Belong Together, the YWCA and other allies mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we continue to amplify the voices, stories and experiences of immigrant women.  We urge President Obama to immediately adopt recommendations for executive action that honors the experiences of, and strengthens protections for, immigrant survivors of violence. The President should: 1) immediately end the practice of family detention and ensure that no survivors of domestic violence or other forms of violence against women are placed in immigration custody; 2) end partnerships between immigration and local police, like the Secure Communities program, which prevent survivors from calling the police and seeking help and safety; and 3) ensure that survivors can meaningfully access protections already in the law which would allow them to seek independence and live free from fear.

This month, I will continue to reflect and refocus on Adriana’s story and the stories of the hundreds of survivors locked up today as a result of these inhumane policies. And I hope you will join with the We Belong Together campaign as we continue to pressure President Obama to take executive action on immigration that protects survivors and honors the needs of women and children.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.