Domestic violence groups see drop in reports from immigrant community

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman stabbed to death in a Round Rock storage unit Monday had rejected her estranged husband, according to an arrest affidavit. 

Round Rock police say both the victim, Dora Quiroz-Gonzalez, and her husband, Jose Villasenor Diaz, were undocumented immigrants. 

The Texas Council on Family Violence says attacks like this happen across the state and women are most vulnerable when they are rejecting a partner or trying to take back control of their lives. Between 2016 and 2017, TCFV found that 146 women in Texas had been killed by an intimate partner, ranging in age from 15 to 92. Out of all those women, 40 percent had left their partners or had made steps to leave. 

“The most dangerous time for a victim is when they’re trying to disengage or separate from that relationship,” explained Gloria Terry, the CEO of TCFV, adding that domestic violence is, “is deeply rooted in power and control, someone is trying to have complete power and control over another person.” 

At TCFV, which oversees around 100 state and federally funded domestic violence support centers, they’ve noticed fears about tightening immigration standards have changed the way immigrant communities are contacting them. 

“Every program in Texas has reported to us that there’s been a decline in hotline calls, there’s been a decline in participation in support groups and therapy, from people who are from the Spanish-speaking community and I would say from the larger immigrant community,” Terry explained. 

Terry said people are reluctant to come forward and reluctant to call law enforcement because of their immigration status. Additionally, Terry said undocumented immigrants may not just be afraid about their own status in the country, they may be afraid that calling law enforcement may jeopardize their partner’s status in the country which can be risky if the two share finances, possessions, or children. 

At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is based in Austin, they’ve seen a 13.5 percent increase from 2016 to 2017 in people reaching out with questions regarding immigration status. 

The hotline doesn’t track the status or ethnicity of their callers but they are seeing higher numbers of people volunteering information about their immigration status in order to ask for help.

“Folks are reaching out to service providers but they are explicitly saying, ‘we don’t want to pursue a route that involves the police because of unfortunately increased fear of deportation and detention,'” said Qudsia Raja, the policy director for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Raja noted that calling law enforcement is an important step and can offer immigrants benefits they may not realize, such as the chance to stay in the country under a U-visa if they cooperate with police in solving the violent crime committed against them. But for those who are uncomfortable calling law enforcement, Raja explained their hotline can still help with offering legal services and pointing victims to alternative housing. 

Round Rock police confirmed no protective orders had been filed against Villasenor-Diaz and that neither party had been involved with any domestic violence calls to their department. 

The New York Times also reported recently that fewer immigrants are reporting domestic violence in major U.S. cities for fear of deportation. Their reporting cited the city of Houston, which has a growing Hispanic community but has seen a 16 percent drop in domestic violence reports for the Hispanic community over the last year. Police leaders blamed the change on intensifying federal immigration policy and new state policies like SB 4 law in Texas which obligates local officials to comply with federal immigration detainers. 

Back at the Texas Center for Family Violence, Terry added that regardless of the policies in play, it’s important for victims and their loved ones to be on the lookout for behavioral warning signs. 

Anyone can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help, it is open 24/7, is free and confidential. Call  1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

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