shutterstock_242098315Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we wanted to take this opportunity to draw attention to the need for AILA member expertise to help survivors, the challenges involved, and also highlight some ways that immigration attorneys can make a huge difference by getting involved and offering assistance.

Immigration benefits for the survivors of domestic violence come in many forms, including Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, I-751 domestic violence-based waivers, U and T visas, and asylum cases. Whatever the benefit, immigrant survivors face numerous systemic, linguistic, and cultural barriers in accessing the legal protections designed to assist them. The lack of legal immigration status is commonly used as a weapon by abusers to maintain power and control within their relationships. Some common examples of this include threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on victims, withdrawing immigration papers, or telling victims that if they were to call the police, they would be the ones arrested for their lack of status.

In fact, in the recent No Más Study, 41% of Latinos surveyed believed that the primary reason Latinos may not come forward to report domestic and sexual violence is fear of deportation. Another University of Illinois study found that 44% of Latinos overall and 70% of undocumented Latinos, are less likely to contact the police to report that they have been the victim of a crime if they fear it will lead to inquiries about their own immigration status.

AILA and its members are uniquely positioned to help address these concerns in a number of ways.  In our own individual practices, we can:

  • Research effective intake and screening tools to screen for domestic and sexual violence;
  • Become better informed about immigration relief for immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence and how to effectively work with survivors in a culturally competent and trauma-informed manner; or
  • Take a pro-bono case for an immigrant survivor of domestic violence.

Furthermore, AILA chapters can be a powerful voice to effect local policy changes for immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual abuse in their own areas, by:

  • Coordinating with domestic violence/sexual assault organizations on joint or cross-training efforts;
  • Working with law enforcement to educate agencies about the purpose of these immigration benefits and to develop U visa certification policies; and
  • Serving as a liaison between local members with the organizations needing volunteer attorneys to take pro-bono cases.

Lastly, AILA is committed to cooperating with leading national domestic- and sexual-assault agencies and coalitions to enhance the protections for immigrant survivors, as well as to prevent laws and polices that would cause these same survivors harm.  This collaboration is critical to ensuring that the existing laws adequately and amply protect immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence and that, in Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as in all other months, we do what we can to ensure that the rights of survivors of domestic and sexual violence  are protected.

Written by AILA’s VAWA, Us, and Ts Committee Co-Chair Cecelia Friedman Levin and Committee Member Mirella Ceja-Orozco with contribution from Committee Member M. Audrey Carr