April 26, 2018
Recently, anti-VAWA and anti-immigration email has been circulated to many state coalitions, and possibly programs. A recent government report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found minimal empirical evidence for assertions about fraud in the immigration system related to VAWA.[i] In addition, as highlighted in the CRS report, the current system already has numerous gatekeepers, checkpoints, and roadblocks that immigrant survivors must pass in order to access VAWA protections. All immigration applications under VAWA are handled by a centralized, specially trained expert unit of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (the “VAWA Unit” at the Vermont Service Center) – with expertise and specialized training not only in domestic violence dynamics and VAWA laws and regulations, but also in detecting and preventing fraud.[ii]
VAWA “self-petitioning” was created in 1994 to assist victims married to abusive spouses who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and who use their control over the victims’ immigration status as a tool of abuse (e.g., by failing to petition for them and thus intentionally leaving victims without legal status). VAWA Self-Petitions rank #1 for RFEs (requests for further evidence). On average, RFEs are issued in 68% of VAWA self-petitions, compared with 19% for all types of petitions handled by USCIS.[iii] Despite the need and evidence of abuse, approval rates for VAWA Self-Petitions are relatively low – only 3,647 in FY 2017.[iv] VAWA self-petitions for abused family members of US citizens and permanent residents account for less than 1 percent of all family petitions approved by USCIS.[v] Also, over 30% of VAWA Self-Petitions, on average, are denied.[vi]
In the 2000 reauthorization of VAWA, the U visa was created as a law enforcement tool, to encourage immigrant victims of certain serious crimes listed by statute (including domestic violence and sexual assault) to report those crimes and cooperate with police and prosecutors without fearing they could face deportation (e.g., if they had no legal status, or depended on the perpetrator for status). To be eligible for a U visa, a victim must demonstrate that she/he suffered “substantial injury” as a result of a limited list of serious crimes. Victims must obtain a law enforcement certification demonstrating that they have assisted or are willing to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. This requirement acts as a built-in fraud prevention mechanism. Contrary to VAWA opponents’ rhetoric, these visas are not given out lightly. The average denial rate for U visa applications is 22%.[vii] The total number of U visas that can be granted in a year is also subject to a maximum annual cap (currently 10,000) and there are no government studies or reports indicating a problem with U visa fraud.[viii] In fact, members of USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate recently stated that they had not seen cases of benefit fraud using the U visa.[ix]
Here is a letter authored by our colleagues at the Tahirih Justice Center, addressing the many myths being spread about VAWA self-petitions. We stand firmly with immigrant victims who face barriers that allow abusers to wield power over their immigration status, thus hindering their safety and ability to leave.
“I am a survivor of sexual violence in a border state with a history of collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE; it was not until I had DACA that I felt protected enough to walk into a police station and report my perpetrator. I have met many women in border states who are subjected to border enforcement every day and are still in the shadows because they fear losing everything if they come forward.”
– Yuridia Loera, DACA recipient and leader in the immigrant rights’ movement in New Mexico.
In an unprecedented move reports have confirmed that ICE agents are targeting and arresting victims of gender violence seeking protection orders at courthouses. Undocumented, queer, communities of color are disproportionally targeted by federal and state law enforcement agencies and the cruelty towards undocumented survivors both in detention centers and in our communities has ramped-up with the new administration.
With news of the crackdown, anti-violence programs across the country are seeing a dramatic drop in immigrant women coming into their shelters. Which brings new problems for programs and advocates that are wanting to reach women experiencing violence in their communities, as well as working with undocumented survivors and their families that are currently in their programs. What is it that we must know about the unique experiences of undocumented victims?
Fear of deportation is a real issue in undocumented communities and among undocumented survivors. As Yuri’s quote in the tweet above outlines, as an undocumented person, there is a huge fear of interacting with law enforcement in general, and with good reason. Local law enforcement works closely with federal ICE agents, in Idaho (like in Yuridia’s home state of New Mexico) many counties provide space in their jails for ICE detainees (until they are later shipped off to ICE detainee camps outside of the state), as well as help ICE agents find and detain undocumented people. Interaction with law enforcement, for many immigrant women, means putting themselves at risk for deportation which heavily influences women’s decision to not reach out. Perpetrators of violence know this, many times they use this against victims. They may threaten to call ICE against the victim, or their family, if they decide to leave or ask for help. ‘Power and control’ is not just limited to interpersonal violence.
The cultural value of familismo that is strong among Latinx communities. This value is a central Latinx cultural value. It involves dedication, commitment, and loyalty to family. Regularly spending time with one’s immediate and extended family is part of familismo. It also involves seeking the family’s advice for important decisions. Sometimes familismo means putting the family above oneself. Family members can influence a victim’s decision can leave or can convince them to stay. Fear of separation from children and extended family members can also hinder a woman’s decision to reach out for help because of the deep ties that familismo has in the daily lives of Latinx people.
If an undocumented victim does decide to leave, language can become a barrier when interacting either with programs and/or law enforcement. Lack of bilingual/bicultural staff members or interpreters can create barriers for undocumented Latinas with limited English proficiency. Many may leave because they cannot communicate the help they need with programs and advocates.
There are tools that you can use when working with undocumented Latinas, such as the U-Visa, or “la visa U” that helps victims of violence. The U nonimmigrant visa was created in 2000 to protect noncitizen crime victims who agree to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of the crimes perpetrated against them — including domestic violence.
We, as advocates for survivors of gender violence, must see the connection between interpersonal violence and state sanctioned violence against the undocumented women/families we serve. It’s not enough to just be aware of cultural differences, but also sensitive to each woman’s case and the depth of violence they experience, including violence from the state. Immigration is not only a human rights issue, or a feminist issue, but also an anti-violence issue.
Three Things to reach out to me for:
As many of you know, Henry Hitt has accepted a position at Clearwater Analytics and his last day at the Idaho Coalition is Friday, April 27th. We have been extremely fortunate to have Henry serve as our Finance Director the past five years and appreciate his many contributions towards improving our financial systems and accountability.
We have arranged to contract with Henry on an interim basis as we hire and on-board a new Financial Director. During this transition, invoice processing times will be altered and payments will be issued on a weekly basis. Invoices submitted after Thursday (on a weekly basis), will be processed the following week. We encourage you to share this information with all staff responsible for submitting invoicing/billing.
REMEMBER: To ensure timely processing, invoices must be submitted by Thursday, no exceptions, for payments to be issued the following week. ACH payments will be delivered weekly on Tuesday mornings.
If you would like to sign up for ACH payments, to speed up payment processing time, please complete this form and email or fax it as instructed on the form.
ChalkHeART Challenge – LIVE
May 3rd | Challenge begins at 6:30 | Challenge 6:00 – 8:30 PM | Linen Building
Encourage a school or youth group in your area to register for the Statewide or LIVE Challenge here!
FREE Train-the-Trainer: Addressing and Responding to Intimate Partner Violence and Human Trafficking in Community Health Centers across IDAHO
May 23rd and 24th | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Linen Building
There is substantial research describing the dynamics and effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sex trafficking and related co-morbid health and behavioral health outcomes for women and adolescents. The purpose of this Training of Trainers is to first offer health center staff and other professionals a simple trauma-informed, evidence-based tool on IPV and sex trafficking for use in primary care settings. Providers can help their patients make the connection between their relationship and health outcomes and offer a supportive referral to a domestic violence program.
This Training of Trainers will begin with a 3.5 hour demonstration of the trauma-informed curriculum by FUTURES faculty, followed by 3.5 hours in the afternoon developing attendee readiness as trainers, providing time to practice the curriculum, ask questions, and refine training approaches.