While the national debate rages on as to the threat posed by undocumented immigrants, the immigrants themselves often face a more personal threat- domestic violence.
All immigrants to United States, legal or not, are afforded the same legal protections as American citizens are when they are victims of domestic violence. However, the fear of deportation keeps many victims from pursuing help from the authorities, leaving the abused t choose homeless or to remain with the abuser.
The Empire Justice Center has released a brochure informing immigrants of their rights in domestic violence situations. It includes information such as the following:
- Domestic violence is a crime. It includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, intimidation, blackmail via withholding of money or immigration papers, and more. Help is available to domestic violence victims in the United States whether or not someone is a citizen or living here without papers or permission.
- Victims of domestic violence should not be afraid to report it to the authorities no matter their immigration status. Police officers are more concerned with the crime than legal status. If immigration status becomes an issue, domestic violence victims can report that they are victims of a crime, which will provide additional legal options.
- Immigrants have the right to use New York family courts. Family courts are civil courts concerned with domestic issues and filling a case there is free. Immigrants have the write to seek legal protections from themselves and their families there. This includes requesting an order of protection; this document will make the abuser abide by certain conditions, such as leaving a shared residence for a period of up to five years. While lawyers are not necessary for these proceedings, immigrants can seek an attorney or may be provided one by the court at no cost.
- Every county in New York contains at least one organization focused on helping victims of domestic violence. These organizations offer information about victim rights, along with shelter and aid. They cannot turn anyone away, regardless of their immigration status.
- The courts, police and domestic violence organizations are all required to offer professional translation services so victims may speak in the language in which they are most comfortable. If translators are not directly available, services may be offered via phone or videoconference. Either way, victims should not sign any documents or make any agreements unless they fully comprehend what is happening.
- Victims of domestic violence should seek out legal aid whenever possible. Immigration lawyers can help victims in seeking protection from abusers, changes in legal status or benefits they may be eligible for under the law. If victims cannot afford legal counsel, may immigration lawyers are willing to provide assistance at little or no cost.
For additional information, contact the Empire Justice Center at www.empirejustice.org