Immigration Status Isolates Victims of Domestic Violence

In the death of Mexican immigrant Viridiana Victorio during a domestic attack at her home, the silence of many is the culprit that nobody mentions, and the main reason why her three children no longer have a clear future. 

(Photo by Steve Rhodes, Flickr Creative Commons License)

(Photo by Steve Rhodes, Flickr Creative Commons License)

In New York, domestic violence has complicated consequences for Latino immigrants, especially for undocumented ones. In the case of Victorio, who was fatally stabbed allegedly by her partner in Queens two weeks ago, relatives and neighbors say they knew the hellish violence in which she lived. Nevertheless, her three young children are now in the custody of the Administration for Children’s Services, while their father is the main suspect in the crime.

“The problem for the children of these immigrant families is who claims them afterward,” said Cecilia Gastón, executive director of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP), an organization that supports these kinds of victims in New York.

“If nobody who can prove legal guardianship claims the children on time, they end up in foster care, and it’s very hard to remove them from there,” she explained.

To avoid such a situation, Gastón recommends having a plan where the first step is to register the children at the appropriate consulate, even if they were born in the United States. According to Gastón, this gives the consulate the power to hand the children to a relative in their country of origin if they don’t have other family members in the U.S.

Many of Victorio’s neighbors knew she was being abused, but none of them filed a complaint, sometimes because the mother, whose immigration status has not been released, requested it herself. Experts warn that these circumstances are very common because people don’t trust the authorities.

“The fear of someone being deported takes priority,” explained Gastón. “The reality is that the aggressiveness of authorities toward undocumented immigrants is such that our communities prefer to hide everything.”

For this reason, Gastón suggested that neighbors help the victim understand what options there are for her and that many organizations offer free and confidential help.

“If a neighbor offers help and gives her a number to call, where they tell her that she doesn’t have to live with the abuse, that could mean the difference between life and death,” said Karina Aybar-Jacobs, director of the Nuevo Amanecer program at the Dominican Women’s Development Center, which provides aid particularly to New York Latinas. 

The family can also contribute to the silence. Gastón recalled one time when VIP assisted a 13-year-old immigrant girl who reported her father for hitting her mother. As a result, the father was deported and the relatives condemned the mother and her children for it.

In this sense, Aybar-Jacobs stressed, the immigration agents’ lack of training can be a huge obstacle.

“The victim is in a very complex emotional state and she definitely can’t articulate what’s happening to her well.” If, on top of that, the abuser speaks English, she added, he could manipulate the situation in his favor.

“The only solution is to always ask for help before the case gets out of hand,” Gastón advised. “Once the police have to get involved, the situation gets complicated.”

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