Reina, Angelica S., Brenda J. Lohman, and Marta María Maldonado. “‘He Said They’d Deport Me’: Factors Influencing Domestic Violence Help-Seeking Practices Among Latina Immigrants.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 29, no. 4 (March 2014): 593–615. doi:10.1177/0886260513505214

deportation

This image is taken from “Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women’s Resilience,” a graphic novel written by immigrant and refugee women who have survived sexual violence before, during, or after relocation. I chose this image because it highlights the unique struggle of undocumented immigrant women: their legal status often prevents them from escaping abusive or violent partners.

Previous literature has shown that women from immigrant populations, including Latina immigrants, suffer disproportionately from gendered violence. Additional studies show that 17.3% of Latina women living in the US, including first-generation immigrants, were victims of partner violence and abuse. Despite these alarming statistics, there has been little effort to study the factors “embedded in institutions” which have allowed partner violence and abuse against Latina immigrants to persist. An even smaller fraction of these studies have centered the narratives of undocumented Latina immigrants. The present study sought to determine the unique barriers that prevent undocumented Latina immigrants from both recognizing and escaping situations of domestic violence and abuse. Researchers found that the most prevalent and challenging obstacle undocumented victims faced was the fear of deportation. Fear of deportation stemmed from direct threats by abusers or distrust of law enforcement and other government authorities. Undocumented victims were often unaware of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 which grants victims of domestic violence and abuse temporary visas. As a result, many participants expressed a desire to stay silent and suffer abuse rather than risk detection and subsequent deportation by government authorities. The fear of deportation was compounded by the deep-rooted traditional values such as “familismo,” or sacrifice for the family, and “machismo,” or centrality of male figures within the family, which women carried from their origin countries.  Under the facade of culture and tradition, domestic violence and abuse became almost unrecognizable and were seen as normal components of the family unit. Even though participants in this study did eventually recognize the need to escape these violent and abusive relationships, they often faced other additional barriers to isolation from support networks of friends and family who still resided in their origin country. In addition, women report that their attempts to seek help and form new support networks were often deterred by lack of Spanish speaking personnel at social service offices, shelters, and other anti-violence organizations.

Evidence was gathered directly from the personal narratives of 10 undocumented Latina immigrants who previously sought services from an anti-violence organization in Iowa. By employing “feminist methodology,” researchers were able to examine common themes between narratives of undocumented Latina immigrants, while honoring individual, lived experiences. One downfall of this research article is that there is no attempt to analyze how trauma inflicted during migration influenced the participants’ perception of gendered violence and affected their willingness to seek help. However, this is understandable as the article was originally published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence whose main goal is not conceptual analysis, but prevention measures and techniques.

Forced displacement places all migrants into a state of extreme vulnerability. However, in this article, we find that Latina immigrant women are particularly vulnerable to a specific class of gendered violence even after successfully relocating to the United States. Our group is interested in how violence against women and children in their home countries, during migration, and after resettlement create additional barriers which prevent them from exercising rights outlined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This article is relevant to our discussions in class as we begin to explore the consequences of US immigration policy on the resettlement of refugees from Latin America.

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