Caring for the most vulnerable: undocumented women in abusive relationships

(iStock/Tharakorn)

I recognized the desperate tone in Elizabeth’s voice as soon as I picked up the phone. Just last year, she had completed a 12-week group therapy program I pilot at our parish for Latina victims of domestic violence. When I last saw her at Mass, she had a new boyfriend and was eight months pregnant. Now that she has given birth, she reveals that he slapped her. While storming out, he assured her he would be coming back to take away their newborn daughter and to have Elizabeth deported.

Elizabeth wants police protection, but with all the recent news about victims of domestic violence being deported when they contact the police, she is terrified that she will be sent back to Mexico, like other immigrants with no criminal record. Who will take care of her 10-year-old son and her new baby?

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Welcoming the stranger and the needy is not heroic; it is what we are called to do as Christians.

In the past, I would have had no hesitation in assuring her that police officers are trained to respond compassionately to victims of domestic violence, regardless of the victim’s immigration status. But in 2017, I honestly do not know what will happen. Every day we hear of arrests and rapid deportations of non-criminal undocumented human beings, here in California and all over the nation.

I have worked with the Latino/a community in San Diego since 1990, both in ministry and as a clinical psychologist. I am painfully aware of the constant anxiety and hostility that openly meet the immigrant and the refugee. And yet many Catholics speak of the “invasion of our country.” The love of Christ in the Gospel was greater than this. He told us so clearly, “You did it to me.” Can we really make ourselves deaf to a message that rings out so thunderously, from the Torah through the Gospels? Welcoming the stranger and the needy is not heroic; it is what we are called to do as Christians.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is also Right to Life Month. These two priorities lie on the same continuum.

I tell Elizabeth I will call the police myself to find out their current policy. The dispatcher assures me that my client will not be reported to ICE if she calls the police. Later, they come and help her to put a restraining order in place.

Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, and an updated, improved version in 2013, which provides “lifesaving services for all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking—including Native women, immigrants, L.G.B.T. victims, college students and youth, and public housing residents.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is also Right to Life Month. These two priorities lie on the same continuum: All life is sacred. In his deeply insightful commentary on spousal love in “The Joy of Love” (Nos. 54, 104), Pope Francis speaks forcefully:

I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement, which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union…. If we must fight evil, so be it; but we must always say “no” to violence in the home.

For those of us who dedicate our lives to the peace and well-being of families, these words are an answer to decades of prayer. Catholic women tortured by partner violence who have for so long felt forgotten by the church now have a champion who unhesitatingly supports them. Let us accompany them in their suffering, work together on their behalf and reach out with the lived message of the Gospel: Love one another as I have loved you....

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Don Honda
2 weeks 3 days ago

Interesting article. Thank you for showing that at least some of the "urban truth" about what is actually happening re: Illegal Aliens is far from the truth.

In my county, Defensa de Mujeres advises their abused clients to NOT report to police because the abusive partner MIGHT be deported. Not helpful at all.

Also, never mentioned is the reality of the U Visa where Illegal Aliens who are a victim or report crime can be given immediate asylum here.

Lisa Weber
2 weeks 1 day ago

We have a president who bragged about sexually assaulting women, so we cannot expect any leadership sympathetic to women from the White House. The Republican-controlled Congress has no interest in exercising oversight on this unfit president and no apparent interest in formulating humane policies with regard to immigration. Essentially, our national government gives us no hope in dealing with domestic abuse faced by immigrant women.

I am grateful to the author for her work and I hope the Church wholeheartedly supports it.

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