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Rethinking Immigration: Moms Will Do Whatever it Takes to Protect Their Kids

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Immigration Rally

Written by Trisha Teofilo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted with permission from the National Immigrant Justice Center blog.

Congress needs to understand something important as it works to pass a new immigration law: Neither a border nor even the threat of detention can keep a determined parent from trying to reach a child who needs her care.

To ignore this fact, when we have the opportunity to create an immigration system that truly meets the needs of our families and communities, would not only be a lost opportunity for good public policymaking, but also would put countless lives at risk.

I have spent the majority of my career working with immigrant victims of domestic abuse. Although it can be challenging, it has proven to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling work. For more than a decade, I have had the privilege to work with men, women, and children who have taught me how to persevere.

Harsh Laws Undermine Critical Victim Protections

Fortunately, in most of the cases I see, something can be done. I often can assist my clients with filing self-petitions under the Violence Against Women Act based on domestic abuse, or applying for U Visas based on being crime victims, or at the very least can refer them to counseling services and assistance to obtain orders of protection. I have learned to appreciate the many small steps it takes a person to move from a life of abuse, victimization, and dependence to a life of freedom and security. It is not easy, and dealing with the complex bureaucratic immigration system is a burden that often takes a backseat to the more urgent issues of personal safety, survival, and escaping abuse.

Despite progress in our laws to protect victims of domestic violence, the U.S. government’s focus on harsh enforcement practices and rollback of basic due process protections — including the chance to see a judge before being deported — have led to victims being denied true security. Deportation can be life-threatening for people who are forced to return to countries where they will not be protected from domestic violence, or for the children they leave behind in precarious situations in the United States. Deportation can mean death.

When Carmela’s* case came to me, she had recently been released from immigration detention. As a child, she was abused by her parents and older siblings. The abusive home life led her to get married at a very young age, but her husband also became abusive. Carmela fled her husband’s abuse and came to the United States. She eventually married again in the United States, only to be victimized again.

In 1995, an immigration judge granted Carmela voluntary departure. She left the United States to comply with the judge’s order. Unfortunately, the attorney she had at the time did not submit the appropriate paperwork so that the U.S. government would know that she complied with the departure order. Thus, her voluntary departure, which would have allowed her potentially to return to the U.S. lawfully at any time, turned into a deportation order, which permanently barred her from lawfully returning to the United States.

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