Immigrant women, whether in the U.S. legally or illegally, face particular challenges when they find themselves in abusive relationships. Language barriers, cultural barriers, fear of authorities and threats from abusers to take their children, or turn them over to authorities combine to make the already challenging process of escaping abuse much more difficult.
Most importantly, if they are an illegal immigrant, they are informed not to reveal their immigration status to anyone except an attorney who is working on their behalf, or a domestic violence advocate. As an advocate it is our responsibility to assist whether the abuse has been physically violent or not.
The following are the services provided to our immigrants/refugees:
Provide bilingual advocates to ensure culturally relevant access to services.
Assist to get documentation of abuse, medical records, including filing police reports.
Providing and/or obtaining interpretation services for court/ prosecution or police interviews and/or hearings.
Dealing with immigration issues; assist with the (VAWA) self-petition or U VISA if the battered petitioner qualifies.
Distribution of immigration information, i.e. brochures, flyers.
Networking with other agencies, Northwest Justice Project, Immigration Rights Project, Catholic Charities of Spokane Immigration Services and WSCADV, Crossing Boarders Project to coordinate immigrations services.
For most Latino immigrants, “la familia es primero”: the family is first. Latinos tend to make great sacrifices and work long hours to ensure their families, both in the U.S. and in their home countries, are provided for. The concept of family for Latinos is not limited to a nuclear family structure. It is common to see Latino families share a small home with aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and other extended family members. Typically, young family members are allowed to live in the family home until they marry. When making an important decision, all family members’ opinions and perspectives must be taken in to consideration. This tradition has created Latino communities with closely established family and friend networks. This makes it important for our advocacy organizations to remember: if a Latino survivor, advocate, or volunteer has a good or bad experience at one of our organizations they will likely share that with the community. Every immigrant has left loved ones back in their home country and radically changed their life in order to find greater opportunities here in the United States. The unfortunate consequence of this sacrifice is coping with feeling lost, out of place, isolated, ashamed, defeated, guilty, and afraid. It is common to feel disconnected from both new family and friends living in the United States and with ones left behind in their home country. This sacrifice, for the greater good of their family, also makes Latino immigrants incredibly strong and resilient. Latino immigrants use food, music, customs, celebrations, and family to feel alive. The use of popular music and movies as part of celebrations with family and friends is a common method of healing. These movies and songs include El tren de la Muerte Documental, Voces Inocentes, La Bestia Documental, La Jaula de Oro by Tigeres del Norte, Hoy Empieza mi Trizteza by Joan Sebastian, Mexico Lindo y Querido by Jorge Negrete, and Cielito Lindo by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés. Latinos use these art forms to transport themselves to their memories and to feel connected to loved ones far away. Many Latino immigrant survivors have not been given the tools to cope with trauma caused by sexual violence or the migrationexperience itself with healthy and safe mechanisms. Like many survivors, Latino immigrants may rely on unhealthy coping skills to relieve stress and assist with difficult times. Unhealthy coping skills, such as using drugs and alcohol, can lead Latino immigrants to be further exposed to physical, emotional and sexual violence. It is helpful for us to learn what tools immigrant survivors are using for healing and to introduce healthy and culturally relevant coping techniques. Using songs and movies that transport survivors to happy memories is a great technique to open conversations individually or in group settings.
In rural areas where mainstream advocacy programs might lack culturally specific resources and multilingual staff, it benefits survivors when we engage the Latino community in helping us serve their community. Education and training for Latino community leaders on issues related to sexual violence helps create a more knowledgeable and supportive community who can spread the word about our services.