Migrant women afraid to speak up about violence

Posted at 8:40 PM, Mar 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-28 02:06:01-04

Hundreds of activists from more than a dozen migrant groups across southern Arizona are pleading for Gov. Doug Ducey to nix a stack of immigration bills, which are waiting for his signature.

The bills in question are HB 2014, HB 2223, HB 2451 and SB 1377. They call for no probation, no plea deals and faster deportation for illegal immigrants who have committed misdemeanor or felony crimes in the United States.

Activists fear the bills are creating two criminal justice systems in the state. They are also describing them as racist. Many are also concerned the bills would continue to tear families apart. 

People who work in the field of domestic violence said they are especially concerned about the repercussions of such bills, which they compare to the controversial SB 1070. 

Over the last few years, law enforcement agencies have teamed with advocates to educate migrant women about the importance of speaking out if they are victims of any kind of abuse. They have tried to reassure them that most shelters have a "no questions asked" policy and legal status is not a concern if they want to step away from an abusive situation.

"Domestic violence is a massive human rights issue. It is about your right to feel safe," said Lorie Simms, the community relations director of Chrysalis.

"We were certainly concerned when SB 1070 passed. We didn't know how that was going to affect victims coming forward. It isn't a political issue. It's about ultimately living the life that they need to live in the healthiest possible way," Simms said.

Nancy, a domestic violence survivor, who had been caught in the cycle of abuse for almost 7 years, said she understood the fear migrant women faced. Nancy did not want to give us her last name. She said that she had been afraid to leave her first husband because she had four children and didn't know what to do. Then, she finally had the courage to leave but she did not know where to go.

"I didn't even know shelters existed back then and I didn't know anything about the domestic violence world. Me and my kids were living in my car and in a hotel," she said.

Advocates said these victims feared deportation. Not only of themselves, but of their loved ones. They also feared that their children would be taken away.

"If you are a victim of domestic violence there is fear at the base of everything that controls your life. No matter what your status is, whether you're a U.S citizen or not," said Simms.

Cultural barriers and being isolated from their network of friends was also a big concern.

"The value of marriage and the value of family, the feeling of shame that their marriage or relationship didn't work out. Family is everything, so once you start isolating them from their family, it becomes a squishy area," Simms said.

Supporters of the bills said the criminal justice system needs to be tough on those living here illegally.