you are an immigrant to the United States, and you are a victim
of domestic violence or rape, here are some suggestions we hope
will help you.
1. You deserve help,
and as a crime victim, you have a right to all the same crime
victim services as any crime victim born in the United States.
Please don't be shy about calling police, using women's shelters,
calling rape crisis centers, applying for victim assistance funds,
or going to restraining order clinics. You do not have to reveal
your immigration status to receive these services, and it is very
unlikely you'll be asked.
If you're still afraid
to call for help because you fear that authorities might deport
you, here's what you or a friend of yours can do. You can call
police, for example, don't give your name, and say something like
this. "I have a friend who is a victim of domestic violence. But
she's afraid to call police because she's an immigrant in the
United States and she doesn't have documents. If my friend calls
you for help, and you find out she doesn't have documents, what
will you do"?
But remember, we only
suggest this so you can convince yourself that
you won't be deported. In the past, it is true that some immigrant
women had this problem. But today, agencies that give services
to crime victims do not require that you are legally in the United
States in order for you to receive crime victim services. In a
recent informal survey we did of victim advocates around the country,
not one reported that they knew of a case in the last five years
where a woman with no documents was reported to the INS because
she had called the police for help or sought other victim services.
2. What if the person
abusing you says that he will call INS and get you deported if
you call police or try to get help? It is very, very common
for violent men to make this threat to immigrant women who are
their victims. But it is virtually impossible for these men to
carry out this threat. To our knowledge and experience, the INS
does not act on calls from one individual who calls up to report
that another individual is here in the United States illegally.
It's important to take
men's threats seriously. But in the case of this
common threat made by abusive men,- that they'll report you to
the INS and get you deported,- the men simply cannot carry it
out. So please don't let this threat stop you from getting help.
And if you're depending
on your husband to petition for your green card and he's abusing
you, or he's threatening to stop the petition if you leave him,
remember that under U.S. federal law battered immigrant women
have the right to leave the abusive husband and continue the petition
on your own. The staff at battered women's shelters and rape crisis
centers can tell you how to do it.
3. If you are still
afraid to seek help, ask someone to make the phone calls for you,
and to be with you when you deal with police and other crisis
workers. In fact, it's a very good idea when you get help
for domestic violence and rape to have someone at your side as
often as possible. Having someone with you makes you feel safer,
helps you remember information, and greatly reduces the risk that
officials might treat you badly or ignore your needs. This is
true even if the person who goes with you doesn't speak a word
of English and doesn't have any idea how the system works.
4. What if you can't
think of anyone who can go with you or who can make phone calls
for you? It's very common for domestic violence abusers and
men who rape to very successfully isolate you from human contact.
This is especially easy for them to do if you are newly arrived
in the United States. Here are a few suggestions for finding people
who can help you make phone calls or accompany you to more help.
Remember, you don't have to tell them everything in order to ask
for their help. You can simply say things like "Will you call
this telephone number for me and ask if they have somebody there
who speaks Spanish"? or "I've been a victim of a crime and I need
to go to court. Will you watch my children for the afternoon?"
or "My husband is abusive and I need a ride to police."
are some people you should consider asking when you need help
making phone calls, help with transportation, or help with an
afternoon of childcare. Think about asking family members, friends,
neighbors, your minister or priest, people at your church, co-workers,
your children's teachers. Even if you don't know the person well,
if your intuition tells you the person is kind, they will probably
say yes, they will help.
And don't forget to
call the telephone operator for the telephone number of your local
rape or domestic violence center. These centers have crisis phone
lines that operate 24 hours a day, and most of the time they have
a staff member that speaks Spanish. Again, if you're afraid to
call, ask a friend to call for you.
Insist on Good Translations
States Constitution says that all persons must be given equal
protection of the laws. The courts have repeatedly ruled that
this means everyone from native born citizens to newly arrived
immigrants whether or not that have proper documentation. Every
human being in the United States has a right to equal protection
of the laws.
The courts have also
ruled that in order to guarantee equal protection for everyone
public agencies must provide adequate translation for people who
don't speak English. This means that when you use or need the
services of public agencies such as police, courts, and victim
assistance centers, you have a right to an interpreter.
High quality translations
are especially important for victims of violence against women
for many reasons. Your immediate safety depends on the officer
having a full understanding of what you're saying. In addition,
your statements to the police are the central evidence in the
criminal case, and they must be accurately reported. And because
it's so important that you feel completely free to tell the officer
everything, police should not use other family members or neighbors
to translate your very personal story.
Here are some other
things that should help you better understand your rights to good
interpreting with police:
- When you dial 911,
if you don't speak English, tell the operator what language
you speak. All 911 operators have immediate telephone access
to highly qualified professional interpreters in many languages.
It shouldn't take more than half a minute for the interpreter
to join you on the line. Don't hang up!
When the interpreter
gets on the line with you and the operator, stay on the line
and keep answering the questions with as much information as
you can give. Don't hold back! 911 interpreters are always excellent
interpreters. The interpreter will pass on what you say to the
911 operator, and the 911 operator will pass on what you say
to the police who are on their way to your call.
Tell the 911 interpreter and operator as much as you can about
your situation, tell them what the perpetrator has said and
done to you, tell them your fears, and tell them if the perpetrator
has hurt you before. Try to keep talking on the 911 call until
the police arrive at your door.
- When police arrive,
ask the officer if he or she speaks your language. If the officer
speaks your language well, tell the officer everything. If the
officer doesn't speak your language well, or doesn't speak your
language at all, tell the officer as best you can that you want
you have a right to good translation from the police, the reality
is that some police still don't take this obligation seriously.
Be aware that the police officers responding to your call have
access to the same telephone interpreter service as the 911
operator. And the police can use any telephone to call the interpreter
service. Police can use a cell phone, the telephone at your
home or the telephone wherever you are. So push the police as
much as you can to get you an interpreter.
- If the police try
to use a family member, or a neighbor, or another member of
your household to interpret, tell the person to tell the officer
that you want a telephone interpreter so you can feel more comfortable
and so the officer can understand you well. Your life deserves
- If the officer
does not get you a professional interpreter, one thing you can
do is grab a piece of paper and write your statement in your
own language, and then hand the statement to the officer. This
way, even if the officer doesn't understand you, you will have
an accurate statement in the police report.
- Another thing you
can do if the officer doesn't understand you is to call 911
again, either while the officer is still there or when the officer
has left. When the interpreter comes on the line, tell the interpreter
that the police officer didn't understand you. Then tell the
interpreter all the important information that you want the
police to know.
- The key thing to
remember is that the interpreters on 911 calls are always quality,
professional interpreters. Your safety depends on good communication
and you have a right to good communication. So if police don't
understand you completely, don't hesitate a second to dial 911
as many times as you need to get your story communicated and
your safety secured.
6. Remember, telephone
communication in the United States is highly mechanized. When
you make a phone call in the United States, there are many times
that instead of reaching a human being, you'll get an answering
machine or a voice mail system. It's very important that you leave
messages. Leave the information slowly. Say your name slowly and
give your phone number slowly. Remember, someone who probably
doesn't know Spanish perfectly is listening to the message and
trying to write it down. Always leave complete information about
the best time to call you back. And if you don't want them to
call back when your husband is home, be sure and leave that information
on the message too.
7. What if you go
to police or to crisis workers and they don't give you the help
you need or they treat you badly? Don't give up! It's true,
there are incompetent people in every occupation, there are racist
people, lazy people, and sexist people. It's also true that there
are competent, respectful, and very helpful people probably right
there in the same office. So if you run into someone who treats
badly, call again on another shift, or ask a friend to call the
person's boss. But please don't give up. You deserve help! So
keep asking until you get it.