This week, two important legislations that affect immigrant survivors of sexual violence will be coming to a head both nationally and in our state. They are, first, the reauthorization of VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act), and second, the enforcement of the Secure Communities Program in Massachusetts. I encourage everyone who cares about immigrant and survivor rights to take a few minutes, Google a few articles, and educate yourself about these two issues. There is a lot that could be discussed about each issue, but for now, I would like to draw your attention to three important points:
1. Although the reauthorization of VAWA has passed in the Senate, it is currently being held up in the House. Some Representatives want to remove survivors’ rights to confidentiality when applying for a U-Visa, a visa typically sought by undocumented survivors of sexual and domestic violence. With this adjustment, in cases of domestic violence, the perpetrator could be notified and questioned about the allegations, thus putting the survivor in severe danger. As we know, many survivors of domestic violence are also survivors of sexual assault. If this measure were to pass, we can be certain that it would throw up a significant barrier for undocumented survivors to seek the aid of U-Visas and potentially other legal and social service options that are designed to help them.
2. The Secure Communities Program in Massachusetts that took effect on Tuesday, May 15th enables any police officer in the state to run the finger prints of a suspected “illegal immigrant,” with the same authority as ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement). In short, any undocumented immigrant who reaches out to law enforcement could be investigated. Many undocumented survivors are already wary to reach out to authorities, and this program will just increase their fear. ICE has said that they will take precautions to prevent harm to victims of crime, including survivors of sexual and domestic violence. However, advocates in the area are still concerned that the program is unnecessary; is not without risk; and will still deter survivors from seeking the help of law enforcement.
3. Undocumented, immigrant survivors are an especially vulnerable population. On top of being survivors of sexual trauma, they also have to navigate systems that are culturally and linguistically different, in addition to them often being legally and economically disadvantaged.
Thanks for making yourself aware! Remember that keeping ourselves up-to-date on new legislations and initiatives within our communities is one of the best ways we can continue to support survivors!
WRITTEN BY: Nicole, a MedAd Volunteer