Immigrant Women Facing Domestic Abuse Need Stronger Protections

President Obama should take action now, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to protect immigrant women who are victims of domestic abuse from becoming victims of the immigration system, too.

I am a survivor of domestic violence, and I am an immigrant. My husband used my immigration status to threaten me for over twelve years.

I came to this country from Mexico in 1995 because my husband told me that I had to come with him. If I refused, he said that he would take our two-year-old son with him and that I would never see him again. My husband’s father had arranged for him to immigrate legally, but I had no choice but to come without papers.

When I arrived we settled in Vancouver, Washington. Between 1995 and 2007, my husband abused me physically, sexually, and psychologically. He would throw things, hit me, and kick me. He told me that if I called the police for help he would report me to immigration. I tried to leave him but he said that if I left and took my two children with me he would accuse me of kidnapping and report me to immigration. Every day that I left to go to work I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to come home to my children.

Eventually, he did report me to immigration. After one incident in which both my husband and his brother threatened me, I left my home and tried to get a restraining order against my husband. But when I got to court my brother-in-law was there. He told the judge that I was undocumented and that immigration authorities were looking for me.

The next day immigration officials came to my job looking for me and I was detained for four months, separated from my children and fearful for their safety. Fortunately I found a lawyer who helped me apply for my residency under the Violence Against Women Act. When I was released, I was eventually reunited with my children, but it took six months of fighting for custody, which I almost lost because I wasn’t able to attend the court hearings while I was detained. My children and I are safe now, but we will always by scarred by those twelve years of abuse and fear of deportation.

Today I volunteer with the YWCA, teaching immigrant women about their rights and using my personal experience to help other women who are facing abuse. Every day, undocumented women live with violence and fear. Women are losing their children, just as I came so close to losing mine. And because of laws requiring collaboration between local police and immigration officers, women like me are afraid to seek help. Many women come to this country seeking safety and protection, but often what we find is a nightmare.

President Obama has the power to change this by strengthening protections for immigrant women, starting with ending collaborations between police and immigration officers like the so-called “Secure Communities” program that makes immigrant women afraid to report abuse to the police or seek help and services. President Obama can provide women like me relief from detention and deportation and ensure that not one more mother is unfairly separated from her children. We need the President to take action immediately so that other women do not have to go through what I went through—or worse.

This is my own story, but I know that it is also the story of too many other immigrant women. Women’s lives are at stake, and we cannot afford to wait any longer. This month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we must all raise our voices to protect immigrant women who are subjected to domestic violence without recourse, and amplify the urgent call to end all violence against women and children.

Adriana Cazorla immigrated from Mexico in 1995 and is a domestic violence survivor. She currently works at the YWCA, educating immigrant women about their rights and using her experiences to help fellow survivors. She recently testified at a congressional hearing with We Belong Together in May, and remains a steadfast advocate for immigrant rights.