Ecuadorean Obtains Legal Residence after Suffering Domestic Abuse

Aida Lucero (far right) was able to become a legal resident thanks to the U visa, which applies to victims of domestic abuse. She received support from Latin Women in Action. (Photo via Noticia Long Island)

It literally took beatings and bruises for Ecuadorean-born Aida Lucero to be able to receive permanent resident status in the U.S.

Just like many other Latina women in this country, for years Aida was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Still, thanks to the help of a local association, the mother of six was not only able to divorce her abuser but also obtain permanent residence for herself and her children.

“I was a victim of domestic abuse,” admitted Ms. Lucero. “I came here alone, and my children stayed in Ecuador. My husband had been here in New York for nine months when I arrived.”

Aida, who works weekends selling her own homemade food in Queens, confessed that for years she endured beatings by her husband supposedly for the sake of her children, even though she ended up in the hospital several times.

“I suffered so much for my children, and also my ex-husband hit me, mistreated me. I was stubborn because I worried about my children ending up without a father, but I made the decision to separate when I realized that this was not right,” she said.

Still, what she did not consider was the fact that breaking up with her husband would not only end the abuse but also open a door for her to obtain legal residence in the United States.

“Being a victim of domestic violence, she was able to have the right to permanent legal residence, which she got through the U visa,” explained Haydée Zambrana, founder and executive director of the Mujeres Latinas en Acción – Latin Women in Action – organization, which assisted Lucero.

“We helped her, and all her children become legal residents because they were all her dependents. Since she was a victim of domestic abuse, the children qualified, and they all became residents. Some of them are now applying for citizenship.”

A way out for women

Latin Women in Action (LWA) is a comprehensive, community-based, social services agency. Its mission and objectives are to provide essential immigration services, education, domestic violence prevention, child abuse prevention, counseling and support, and to provide referrals for other services such as mental health, employment, housing and health assistance.

“When a woman walks in, the first thing we do is make sure that she is going to be safe, that she has a place to go to and whether she has a plan to leave her home. What we do is help them understand that they have a way out, that they have a choice to make and that they should make it,” added Zambrana, referring to domestic violence cases.

“Once the [abusive partner] is arrested, the woman needs to cooperate with the district attorney. Some women are abused by a man but drop the charges when he is arrested because the men swear that they will change, so they yield. If she comes here to arrange her papers and did not cooperate with the district attorney or rejected the restraining order, then the case is ruined; there is no case,” said the director.

That is why it is important for women who are victims of domestic violence and are looking to obtain citizenship through the U visa to clearly understand the legal process.

“It is important for people to know that, in order to have the right to a benefit, they need to have collaborated with the police, the district attorney or another agency. Just because the [abusive partner] was arrested does not mean that the woman has a right to the benefit. She needs to have collaborated with the agency, even if she feels bad about it,” continued Zambrana. “There needs to be an arrest, a report and a restraining order.”

The restraining order issued by a judge is precisely what prevents an abusive partner from retaliating against the victim after she reports him. Victims should not be afraid to act upon that restraining order.

“The problem with Latina women is that they obtain a restraining order but fail to report the man when he violates it,” said Zambrana. “The restraining order is a weapon they have in their hands. The moment he violates it, you call 911 and it is 100 percent certain that he will be arrested.”

In Aida’s case, reporting her husband and moving forward with the legal case was one of the best decisions of her life.

“I would tell all mothers to ask for help, because we are not here to suffer,” she said. “[Latin Women in Action] helped me submit my papers and, thank God, everything turned out well for my children and me. I see a clearer future now, life is better now and, thank God, my children are in school and working. I would tell all women to come to Ms. Zambrana and ask for assistance, for advice, because they offer great help here.”

Zambrana explained that the U visa is not only for women enduring domestic violence but also for anyone undocumented who is the victim of a crime, such as assault, who ends up in the hospital. The person must file a report and collaborate with the police.

“Other women who qualify are those involved in sex or human trafficking. We also help them here,” she said. “That is a difficult topic to tackle, as women are often afraid to talk about it, whether because they are ashamed or because they have become involved in prostitution or held captive.”

In the case of psychological and emotional violence, resident status may also be obtained if there is proof of the abuse. Contact Latin Women in Action at www.latinwomeninaction.com.

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