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The Status of Battered Women

Domestic violence victims may have to report immigration status

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Advocates for domestic violence are worried they may have a new battle: countering the anti-immigrant furor that supports asking even crime victims to disclose their immigration status.

Battered women who are in this country illegally are already frightened of the police, says Jane Taylor, shelter service coordinator of United Family Services' Shelter for Battered Women. "You know if there's some sort of policy in place that says you've got to examine their status -- well, they're not going to come forward," Taylor says.

After Charlotte-Mecklenburg police apologized for questioning a robbery-reporting food vendor about his immigration status, Mayor Pat McCrory wondered why such queries weren't common procedure. But advocates for domestic violence victims say there's a reason illegal immigrants shouldn't be afraid to report violent crimes.

Taylor says the shelter has worked hard to win trust among illegal immigrants: "They are coming to us, and they're doing it 'cause they realize we're not going to turn them in."

Rona Karacaova, an attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina's Battered Immigrant Project, says many abusers nonetheless have convinced their victims the law won't help them.

The perpetrators, whether here legally or not, frequently use a victim's status as a bargaining chip, telling a victim she'll be deported and won't see her children again, said Karacaova. Many women are unaware they might have recourse under the federal Violence Against Women Act. The Act allows some battered spouses to petition for citizenship, instead of relying on their partner, as is custom.

"Word gets out really quickly in the immigrant community, and I would think that if victims of abuse hear that they're going to be asked about their status, they're not going to call," says Karacaova. "They're just going to suffer in silence."

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