Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence
Posted on September 2nd, 2011
Imagine being a recently arrived immigrant in the United States – living in Cook or Lake County. While your dream of living in the U.S. has been realized, there are many unexpected stresses on you, your spouse and your children. The culture, the language and customs at work and at school are different from those at home; the neighborhood is not the same as the town you left. You are struggling to feed your children and pay rent. The children do their homework in a different language in a very different school system.
Sometimes frustration erupts and tempers flare in the family. Hurtful things are said and perhaps blows are struck. And in the experience of Catholic Charities and our partner agencies, it is most often the wife and mother of the family who bears the brunt of the anger and frustration, physically and emotionally. But domestic violence, the silent member of the family, is a destructive force on every family member.
Since Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago was founded 94 years ago, we have assisted women suffering from domestic violence. Often hidden, a “family secret,” it was – and remains today – a source of great suffering for women and children, and less frequently, men, trapped in homes with abusers. But spousal abuse and its culture of silence lives on in the lives of thousands of men, women and children. This is especially true among immigrant families as women and children face additional language, cultural, and legal barriers to their safety. Immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault represent one of the most marginalized populations in our midst as they frequently do not know help is available.
Last October, in order to address this problem, the Catholic Charities Immigration and Naturalization Department formed a partnership, The Immigrant Survivors Project (ISP), with several other social service agencies: Sarah’s Inn, Greenhouse Shelter, Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC), and Catholic Charities Legal Assistance Program, to provide comprehensive, specialized legal services for women and men who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking.
The partner agencies meet quarterly to cross-train each other in their respective fields. Catholic Charities departments train specialized victim agencies (Sarah’s Inn and Greenhouse Shelter) on legal issues, and specialized victim agencies equip legal service providers to represent clients in a victim-centered manner.
Each organization contributes services according to their mission: providing shelter for victims, court advocacy, specialized support services, family law advice and representation, immigration law advice. For instance, Catholic Charities Immigration and Naturalization Services (CCINS) provides legal counsel and representation to those whose insecure immigration status often contributes to their victimization. Sarah’s Inn, one of our formal partners, provides court advocacy, crisis intervention, emergency shelter and specialized support for victims, including safety planning, and assisting Catholic Charities in gathering the necessary documents such as police reports, orders of protection, and medical records in order to move forward with an immigration case.
A two-year Legal Assistance for Victims grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women, a collaborative project, was awarded as a result of the vision of Catholic Charities’ Department of Immigration, whose director and specialists noticed a growing need.
Catholic Charities Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services, a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized program was established in 1972 to provide low-cost, quality legal advice to guide newcomers to the United States through the immigration process. With a full range of legal services to assist immigrants, Catholic Charities has assisted in providing legal family reunification to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents with family members from all over the world: including Poland, Russia, Iraq, Nigeria, Mexico, Vietnam and Central and South America – people of all faiths.
Congress has provided immigration laws to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence by securing their immigration status, thus eliminating a common barrier to freedom and safety from their abuser. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first established in 1994 and re-authorized in 2005, enables many individuals in an abusive relationship to a U.S. citizen to seek independence through lawful permanent residency, thus gaining authorization to work and the security to fight for their children in custody and child support matters. The U VISA legislation passed in 2000 helps victims of violent crimes to assist law enforcement by encouraging victims to report and prosecute the perpetrators.
The Immigrant Survivors Project has enabled the Catholic Charities Immigration and Naturalization program to expand their VAWA and U Visa case load by over 300%. In the last 10 months, more than 300 women (and their qualifying family members) have been assisted by ISP in obtaining U Visas or VAWA protection, and 75 of those victims (mostly women and children) are currently receiving intensive counseling and other services to assist in their recovery. Catholic Charities’ Legal Assistance Program provides family law counsel and representation to immigrant victims regarding such matters as orders of protection, child support, and custody issues.
For decades, Catholic Charities has offered legal assistance to newcomers to the United States as well as individual and family counseling. Now, thanks to the new Immigrant Survivors Project, our mission to help families in need of safety, health, justice and charity continues to protect and preserve families.