In an El Paso court on February 9, federal immigration agents detained an undocumented woman after a court hearing (link). While these types of detentions happen on a regular basis, this one caused particular concern in the victim service community. This woman was in court that day to get an Order of Protection. The tip that led to her detention is speculated to have come from the person against whom she was filing the Order of Protection, her alleged abuser.
It is no great revelation to say that abusers will use any and all methods available to them to maintain power and control over their victims. While most people think of emotional and physical abuse, advocates often see sexual abuse and financial abuse in their clients as well. Withholding immigration documents or threatening to report an undocumented individual to authorities is a further extension of this abuse- one more tool that abusers use to maintain their control. This is true for both victims of domestic violence as well as human trafficking.
It is important for advocates, victims, friends, family, law enforcement, and courts to know, however, that there are legal remedies to prevent a situation like the one in El Paso. Victims of domestic violence may be able to apply for a U Visa which allows victims who cooperate with a criminal investigations to obtain a visa to stay in the United States and to potentially earn a green card. Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an individual who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may self-petition to stay in the U.S. lawfully, to work, and to receive public benefits. Victims of sex or labor trafficking may apply for a T Visa which could grant them lawful residence, the ability to work, and a potential path to stay permanently.
No immigration process is quick or simple. While these are drawn out processes with no guarantee of success, simply spreading the word of their existence may help someone. Sharing this information could save a victim whose abuser is threatening to have them deported or who is hesitant to involve the police for fear of deportation. This can allow us as advocates and as a society to take one more tool away from abusers and to give that little bit of power back to the victim.
If you or someone you know is concerned about their legal status and they are a victim of domestic violence or sex trafficking, St. Louis has several resources available including:
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri
Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry
If both of these state they are unable to help a victim, they can call Crime Victim Advocacy Center at 314-652-3623 for intake and additional referrals.