In all the controversial arguments that surround the issue of undocumented immigration, it is easy to forget one crucial truth: undocumented immigrants are people who live with constant fear.
When a person chooses to leave their native country for the United States without going through proper procedure, their choice is usually made under duress.
Political unrest or pressing financial need is often the catalyst for sending immigrants over the border. For a variety of reasons, they fear staying in their home country and do not have the funds or the time to wait for the US government to process their immigration request.
But while they may escape one situation, their new one is often plagued with stress and vulnerability. Along with the constant fear of being discovered by police and sent back where they came from, undocumented immigrants are vulnerable to many kinds of abuse, including:
- Employer fraud
- Insufficient healthcare
- Sexual violence
- Intimate partner violence (IPV)
Because of their undocumented status, many immigrants never come forward to report these abuses because they do not trust the American legal system to take care of them.
Barriers to Reporting for Undocumented Survivors
For many survivors of sexual abuse or violence, one of the primary barriers to reporting their abuse is the fear that they will not be believed. This is just as true for undocumented immigrants who suffered from sexual violence.
According to Sandra Park, an attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, “There’s this culture of hostility toward sexual assault victims. For immigrant victims, it’s compounded by a distrust of what their motivations might be.”
There are additional barriers that prevent undocumented immigrants who suffer sexual abuse from getting the help they need and deserve. Examples include:
- Latina survivors report that their undocumented status is often used as a control mechanism by the abuser to ensure that they do not leave the abusive situation.
- Women report a general lack of knowledge about available resources in the community. Less than 3 in 10 Latinas had heard of IPV protective orders. Not many knew about local domestic violence agencies.
- A study found that 1 in 3 shelters did not have any Spanish-speaking staff. Only half of the participating shelters offer child-related services. Many of the problems stemming from diverse cultural values were not respected and went unresolved.
- A survey of over 500 foreign-born Latina women found that 14% of participants reported experiencing problems in accessing IPV services due to immigration issues (such as lack of legal identification).
Services are Available Regardless of Your Immigration Status
If you are undocumented you may worry whether you can use or trust America’s legal system. It is common to feel overwhelmed, but it’s also important to know that there are immigration, employment, housing and legal options for you. From shelter to free counseling to court orders against your abuser, there are resources that can help you protect yourself and your children.
Furthermore, United States law guarantees you the right to safe and healthy working conditions at your job. This includes defending you from abuse, exploitation or sexual harassment, as well as discrimination. In other words, if your workplace refuses to believe or take action regarding your complaints about sexual harassment because of your undocumented status, you have the right to seek justice.
Seek Justice with a Civil Case
One of the major resources for undocumented immigrant victims of sexual abuse is the U-visa. Created in 2000, this new category of visas protects undocumented victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other serious crimes from deportation and helps them become eligible for legal status.
But since it was created, some state lawmakers have refused to sign off on particular U-visa applicants for reasons having to do with their own agendas. In one North Carolina case, the district attorney opined that “assault on a Latino by a Latino is not the rational[e]” that should grant a U-visa to a pregnant woman assaulted by her boyfriend.
However, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has begun investigating more cases where police departments failed to pursue sexual crimes against undocumented women in particular. One major target of DOJ investigation is the sheriff’s office of Maricopa County, Az., who is suspected of engaging in unconstitutional policing, especially against Latinos in the community.
According to a report by PBS’ Frontline, “the DOJ said the sheriff’s office admitted that it had failed to properly investigate more than 400 cases of sexual assault and child molestation over a three-year period in 2007. In many of the cases, the sexual assault victims were undocumented Latinos or their children.”
If you are undocumented and have been subject to a situation like this, where your human rights were violated and law enforcement failed to follow up on your report, you should know that there is still hope. Even with undocumented status, you have the right to file lawsuits in federal court and some state courts.
By filing a civil claim, you can seek justice for yourself against the person who harmed you, as well as the law enforcement agency who failed to defend your human rights.
No one should have to choose between enduring abuse and facing deportation and possible separation from their children and loved ones. Contact Jessica Pride today to find out what your rights are.