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Why Immigrant Spouses Are Uniquely Vulnerable To Domestic Violence

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Why Immigrant Spouses Are Uniquely Vulnerable To Domestic Violence
Why Immigrant Spouses Are Uniquely Vulnerable To Domestic Violence
Why Immigrant Spouses Are Uniquely Vulnerable To Domestic Violence GUESTS: Anne Bautista, director, VAWA Legal Program at Access Inc. in San Diego Mariel Cota, domestic violence survivor

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Domestics violent snowstorm entries. The poor, the wealthy, every demographic and be touched by violence in the home. One of the most vulnerable populations or women from other countries who married US citizens. If those marriages descend into physical or emotional violence, the victim may feel they have nowhere to turn. One time, I was heading to my sister's house for [ Indiscernible ]. When he arrived home, he called and said where are you and where is my son? I stole them I was at my sister's house. Told me, if you are not back and 50 minutes, I will call the police. I will tell them that you kidnapped my son because you have no right. I remember, I told him, no he is my son and I can take into my sister's house. He said I was in the police because you are nothing in this country. You have no right. The police will go after you. I remember that I took the next exit, and turned back to the house. Basically, I felt like what am I going to do because I really thought I had rights. He started using net for everything. I mean, he is my son over my head for years. That was Mariel Cota, a domestic violence survivor. Joining me is Anne Bautista for Legal Program at Access, Inc. Access, Inc.. Gave for joining us. Thank you. Does Mariel Cota fear that she has no right. Is that common? Yes, that is a common theme that runs through all of the cases that I have seen. It is one of there biggest fears, that there children will be taken away or that they will never see there child again if they come forward to ask for help. Does that stop victims from seeking help? It may, but for the more persistent ones, if they continue to ask for help, eventually they will get to that person that says, no, this is not right. There is help for you, and I know who can help you. Okay. It has stopped women at times of going to the doctor, maybe? Yes. There are quite a few, and we have actually done a lot of outreach and training about accessing importance of seeking healthcare and the importance of making sure that you tell the doctor what is going on. That, there is a huge fear, especially amongst foreign women, because there fear as a doctor that they will report what happened, and the understanding -- it is a misunderstanding, but it think that the doctor will also get them deported. Is any of that true? Will the spouse be deported or lose there children? Not necessarily. This is why the violence against women act exist. Under VAWA was active in 1994, and it allows someone in the situation was of the victim a battery or physical abuse, or extreme cruelty, the psychological torture, to file his or her own petition. The problem is finding the courage and getting the support to go to the right place to get help. Generally speaking, if you are married to a US citizen, and your novices -- citizen, your spouse would have to sign the petition for you? Yes. The spouse who is the USA Today -- US citizen or person without the green card, could file the petition to get up started, but needs to continue through the entire process. At any point, that could be stopped by the US citizen or permanent resident South. Decibels. What types of situations have you seen spouses put up with, because you -- they are afraid they will be sent back to the native countries? The sad thing is that a lot of the victim succumbed to us, they do not come to us during the first incident of abuse. Usually, it is probably the 10th or 12th, or maybe it is been years in the making. The sad thing, with children having grown up in a youth -- abusive environment. By the time they see us, they have suffered a great deal and are very traumatized, and they have been told by others in the community, maybe some other lawyers that say that there's not much they can do and that they will have to just try to stick through the marriage. Oftentimes, the victims that come to us have suffered for many many years before they even come to us. That is assuming that there is somehow in a domestic violence response system. If they call the police, most likely immediately they will be connected with resources for shelter, counseling, or legal help if they went to the doctor and a brave enough to tell the doctor about how they got injured, maybe the doctor would have to report it, and then try to connect it with resources. That, if they have not done that, and it is up to them to tell somebody what is going on. That is why they can be isolated for years before coming forward. Now Mariel Cota told us about a time when she was so desperate. She briefly thought about driving off a bridge with her kids in the car. It made her sympathize with other desperate women. When I sure the news, father kills the son or daughter and then took her life -- mother -- I thought, but even dogs do that. Now my perception is different. Now I think, the poor woman. What she might be going through to do that. Can you believe that? I thought, that is not a good idea. No. I just said no, I will live one day at a time. I remember, I used to take my kids to the beach or park and always try to make them happy, because I know that we have to turn back to the house and walk on eggshells. Mario -- Mariel is a native of Mexico. Or some other countries of domestic violence that you work with? About 80% come from Mexico, but the next largest group actually be from the Asian countries, from the Philippines, and followed by that, Vietnam. Also, quite a few from the Middle East. A lot of them are refugees and are experiencing violence as well in the home. With the increased outreach that we are doing right now into the Filipino and Vietnamese communities, what is disturbing is that I'm finding more of the abuse is sexual in nature. In some of the cases, disturbingly, it seems to be very similar to trafficking. You have told us about some of the ways access help these women out of there situations by helping them to know that they can file for a status in this country themselves, they can get legal resources. But I think we owe -- all know enough about abusive situations to know that it takes more than a woman and her family and they have to be able to survive in there own and make there own lives. What does access to to help those women? There's a number of things beyond our program. It is been wonderful because a lot of our clients while they are waiting -- it is a very long process it in the case, and getting the victim survivor to tell her story -- To tell her story? Exactly. At the time, she may be in a shelter and trying to survive in her own. It is wonderful that we have other programs. An example of a very popular is a in price program. It will enroll in the program. Some programs actually can make jewelry and specialty tamales, and they will turn it into an actual business. We will happen if there business permit. It is really wonderful to see that. It seems to be even helping them but there business plan together. That in and of itself is very empowering and it really does help boost confidence levels. This is domestic finance -- violence awareness month. How are you observing the special month? We did last year, without it would be really special to have an event commemorating what we are doing in the focus celebrating the courage of our survivors who were brave enough to tell us there story and trust in us enough to guide them through the process. A lot of that would not have happened had it not have been for their ability to keep hope and go forward with the process. There are only so many things that we can do. I can give them as much as a pep talk as it possibly can, and I also want to point out that, obviously, I do not do this alone. San Diego is really really wonderful that we have an array of shelters and -- an array of counselors, and we all pretty much work together to try to fill the other gaps for a victim. It is really not just one thing that he or she needs. The victim in the situation, immigrants will need a variety of services. That was Anne Bautista director of the VAWA Legal Program at Access, Inc. . Thanks so much to Mariel Cota who told her story to Midday Edition Megan Burke. There holding a fundraiser at 6 PM at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. The event of its victims of domestic violence. Access, Inc. is also produced bidding in the Purple Purse Challenge. Participants can donate a minimum of $10 to access through its VAWA -- Crowdrise site and be able to win a purple purse.

Domestic Violence Month Fundraiser

Access Inc. is hosting a fundraiser, "Esperanza, A Story of Hope," 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. The event benefits immigrant victims of domestic violence.

Access is also participating in the Purple Purse Challenge during the month of October. Participants can donate a minimum of $10 to Access through its Crowdrise site and be entered to win a purple purse.

Looking back to when her nightmare began at age 32, Mariel Cota said she never thought she would become a victim of domestic violence.

"But the circumstances of me thinking that I could lose my son really and truly put me into this situation that I put up with everything," Cota said.

Cota remembers driving to her sister's house for a barbecue when she got a call from her ex-husband demanding she return home.

"He told me, 'If you’re not back in 15 minutes I will call the police and say that you kidnapped my son, because you have no rights,'" Cota said. "He told me, 'You’re nothing in this country because you have no rights,' and I remember I took the next exit and returned back to the house.”

Cota is from Mexico and she said she suffered emotional abuse at the hands of her ex-husband for 12 years. She thought she had nowhere to go. She said her ex-husband exploited the fact that she was not a U.S. citizen and did not know her legal rights in the United States to control her.

Anne Bautista is director of the VAWA Legal Program at Access Inc. in San Diego. For the last 18 years, she worked to make sure thousands of women, including Cota, were able to take control of the process to become legal residents.

"Not that we can encapsulate all the stories into one standard story but a running theme that I see with the victims is that there is intense fear in coming forward to tell anybody, law enforcement, friends or family because their status is the main thing that has kept them isolated and has kept them paralyzed," Bautista said.

Extended Interview: Mariel Cota, Domestic Violence Survivor

The typical process for an immigrant spouse gaining legal status is that their citizen- or resident-spouse files the petition and the process can take up to three years. Under Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, there are provisions for victims of domestic violence and they may be eligible to self-petition.

Bautista said in order to qualify for self petition, immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents have to prove that they are the victims of battery or extreme cruelty, that the marriage was in "good faith,” and that they lived with their partner during the marriage. They would also have to prove they suffered extreme hardship.

Domestic Violence In San Diego County

According to the San Diego County District Attorney's office, in 2014 there were 16,897 domestic violence incidents reported countywide.

When Cota left her ex-husband she went to the YWCA's domestic violence shelter.

"I told them, 'I’m here in the shelter but what is going to happen with me legally? Are they going to come in and take my son away from me and say you kidnapped him?,'" she said. "I was so mislead about that situation that I truly believed that it can happen."

YWCA staff told her about Bautista's program at Access, Inc.

"Thanks to Anne Bautista, I remember she explained to me...you have rights regardless of your nationality, regardless of which country you’re coming from," Cota said.

It took about a year for her to prepare her case while she worked on securing her safety at the shelter and getting connected to professional counseling to deal with the constant threats and stalking by her ex-spouse.

Once her VAWA case was filed, the process took about a year from filing to approval. Upon approval, Cota was immediately eligible as the spouse of a U.S. citizen to apply for legal permanent residency, which she received on July 9, 2013. She is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship next year. She said she is looking forward to being eligible to vote in the next election.

Cota is now putting her life back together. She's working as a florist, a skill she learned while living at the domestic violence shelter. Her son is now 13 and said he wants to be an attorney to be able to help women like her, especially those who don't speak English. Her older children, a daughter and son from another relationship, are thriving, too. Cota said her daughter, who is in college, wants to be a psychologist to be able to help children who've had traumatic experiences like she did.

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