OCTOBER is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in New York City
DV Available Help for Immigrants
By D. Gokarran Sukhdeo
Guyana Journal, October 2006
Family is the oldest institution, the cradle from which all social and hereditary values and non-values derive. The family is a consecrated institution vested with the responsibility of grooming infants into wholesome individuals. Whenever an infection or affliction befalls the family, the whole family is affected, sometimes the whole village or society. Thus the origin of most social problems can be traced, directly or indirectly, to dysfunctions in the family. One of the silent, but serious afflictions that often go unrecognized or unattended is that of Domestic Violence (DV). DV is not just a family problem; the extent to which it exists and impacts on society makes it a social problem.
Accurate figures are difficult to obtain for the main reason that much of DV is not reported by the victims for obvious reasons, for instance, wives may be fearful their assailant husbands could be seriously punished by police or could retaliate with greater outrage, or that if the situation becomes public, it would disgrace her or traumatize the children. "There is compelling evidence that violence against women is severe and pervasive throughout the world," said UN chief Kofi Annan. According to estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), of the 691,710 non-fatal attempts of violence committed by current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends of the victims during 2001, about 588,490 or 85% were perpetrated against women by their partners. Male against female DV is approximately five times higher that female against male.
The US Department of Justice (March 2003) states that one in 4 women will experience DV during her lifetime. Other academic studies on DV show that young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of DV in the US 16 per 1,000 persons. Half of the men in American homes who batter their wives also abuse their children. Women of color experience DV at a rate 25 to 35 percent higher than that of white females (depending on the race of the color woman Black women are the most battered of all women of color). Also, Black males experience DV at a rate 62% higher than white males in the US. Latino females report the highest incidence of sexual abuse (rape) of all females in the US.
Apart from the social and psychological impact on victims, batterers and children, the economic cost of DV is astronomical, exceeding six billion dollars in health care expenses annually, about one billion dollars in lost productivity, and one billion in lost earnings. When property loss, ambulance service, police response, clinical and counseling costs, and lawsuits for suffering and pain are factored in, the cost grows to $67 billion.
Because of the structure and dynamics of family and its closeness to religion and culture in some societies, there is no general definition of DV that fits all societies. In the US, (DV) is not about random or isolated acts of family violence. It is a pattern of behavior centered on issues of power and control in the family. DV is the willful intimidation, battery, assault, sexual assault or other abusive behaviors perpetrated by an intimate partner against another with a specific objective, whether latent or manifest, but is somehow related to a spousal struggle to assert or reassert control or power in the family. Thus, DV is as much a cause of institutional and social problems as it is a symptom of a deeper underlying problem of an individual.
A multitude of studies have been done on the subject of Domestic Violence. I would not like to add to them, but rather, in this series, focus more on ways in which families affected by DV can seek help, particularly families in our predominantly immigrant community. In this issue I will explore what services can be accessed by or what course of action is open to DV victims who are undocumented, in the process of documentation or documented, but victimized by their sponsor-spouses.
Now, the words documented and undocumented are being used very loosely. Actually there are no such INS categories. Undocumented refers to people in the US who do not have any current immigration status such as citizen, lawful permanent resident (LPR), conditional permanent resident (CPR), refugee, etc. It is important to distinguish between documented and undocumented, as well as among the various categories of documented since each is eligible for different public benefits if they wish to seek such as victims of domestic violence. In other words, there are people who do not have any immigration status but may still be eligible for benefits, depending on their situation. Two such situations are being a victim of DV or a crime victim.
Lets consider some situations:
Rohanie, a not yet documented person, enters a DV shelter with her two minor children after being battered by her husband, Jairam, who is a citizen. She is desperately in need of money. Although an I-130 has only been filed, and she can verify this, even by a cash register receipt from Immigration Services, she has access to certain public benefits.
Waheeda was without status when she married Jerry, her lawful permanent resident husband. He never filed an I-130 for her before she entered a DV shelter. She consulted an attorney, Hassan, who filed a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petition for her. In other words, women, regardless of immigration status, once established that they are spouses of citizens or legal permanent residents, and are victims of violence, can file their petitions, (1-360) to obtain immigration status, and thus qualify for other public benefits.
Kamla and her husband Yusuf have not filed any papers with Immigration Services since they both came to the States backtrack and are living in Ozone Park, Queens. During a DV incident Kamla calls the police and Yusuf is arrested and charged. She cooperates with the police and her attorney, Dolly, files a U visa application for her. (U visas are for victims of certain crimes here in the US, including DV, assault and sexual violence. If U visas are not granted, the victims are usually placed on Deferred Action.) Kamla is now eligible for a host of public benefits even though she has no Immigration Status.
Thirteen-year old Arti was brought to the US on a visitors visa by her parents who also came on visitors visas. All visas, Artis and her parents, have long expired. Arti was severely whipped by her parents and a child abuse report was called in against her parents by her schoolteacher. The report has been substantiated and Arti was placed in foster care with Administration for Children Services (ACS) which takes care of all her health, welfare, educational, recreational and social needs. ACS can also file for permanent residence for her (but not for her parents).
There are numerous other situations in which children and adults, as victims of DV, crime or abuse, can not only obtain immigration status, or some form of documentation, but also housing, food and cash benefits. They need not suffer in silence or ignorance; they need to speak to an attorney or other resourceful persons in the community who can lead them to the appropriate help. (See also page 19)
State or federally funded public assistance or welfare benefits are available to DV victims and their minor children in the case of asylees or refuges and T visa holders (certified victims of severe trafficking) immediately upon application; and for LPR or CPR, only after 5 years of qualifying status. The same eligibility applies for those wishing to apply for state or federally funded food stamp programs. Victims in other situations such as disability, old age (60 or older) or if the LPR/citizen is a child may also apply. WIC (Women, Infants & Children) provides vouchers for food, nutritional counseling and referrals to health and other social services to low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or in postpartum period; babies; and children up to age five, irrespective of immigration status. All aliens wishing to access public benefits must either have a social security number or show that they applied for one, or show that they attempted to obtain one but were denied.
Public Health Insurance provides coverage to no- and low-income people immigrants of any status, but for the undocumented they can only benefit from pre-natal care and emergency Medicaid, which is available to all, irrespective of immigration status.
Charge of the Public
Battered immigrants should access these benefits without fear of immigration consequences. Most applications are not affected by the issues surrounding public charge and reviews for citizenship, work permits or for refugee applications, though green card applications may be affected by the public charge question, but not always. Some immigrant victims of DV may apply for green cards without any review of the public charge question. Also, receipt of benefits is not a bar for green card holders seeking to become US citizens; and receipt of public benefits is not a bar to sponsoring a relative.
To qualify for legal representation on immigration issues, as well as benefits for DV victims, clients are required to establish that they are a victim of domestic abuse by means of a DV Shelter Letter, Order of Protection, Police Domestic Incident Report, or Letter from Counselor.
Some contact information:
Technical Assistance and Legal Representation on Alien Eligibility and Welfare Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors 212-349-6009 X 314.
New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Hotline
(24 hours/7 days a week. 800-942-6906; 800-942-6908 (Spanish)
New York City Domestic Violence Hotline 800-621-HOPE
DV Victim Services 800-621-4673
Medicaid (24 hours/7 days a week) 718-291-1900
Homeless/Emergency Shelter (24 hours/7 days a week) 800-994-6494
Center for Immigrant Right, Inc (212) 505-6890
Food Assistance (food after hours) 718-402-6277
WIC Program 800-522-5006
Gokarran Sukhdeo is a Social Work Supervisor in New York City Administration for Children Services.