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Under two shadows: The undocumented and domestic violence

Under two shadows: The undocumented and domestic violence

Picture of Karla Escamilla

Our Univision series tells the story of a woman who quietly lived in a very violent relationship. Due to her undocumented status, she feared the authorities, she didn’t know where to find help, and mostly she was threaten to be deported if she said anything about her situation. She suffered depression, anxiety, very low self esteem and self worth. After 7 years she finally was able to get away from her violent relationship but her mental stability was gone. Her immigration status prevented her from looking for any mental health help or counseling. She did not know it was available. She told her story to inform other undocumented women, men, and families that if they suffer from any mental instability they can find the support, treatment, and medications without having to fear because of their immigration status.

I wanted to look deep in to cases of metal health in our immigrant community to be able to give light to the existing problem and give our audience the tools and information to reach out and get better. Since 2009, when SB1070 was introduced in Arizona, the majority of immigrant families started to fear police more than seeking help and therefore hundreds of crimes are not reported which affects the physical and psychological health of such individuals. Men and women victims of domestic violence are often threatened because of their immigration status and suffer major psychological consequences.

Right after coming back from the meeting of our 2013 California Endowment Health Journalism Fellows, I started talking to doctors about the mental distress that people can suffer if they live under the pressure and stress of being in the country undocumented. They all mention fear as the main problem. And because of fear many other mental diagnosis such as, anxiety, depression (social and chronic), lack of self worth and self esteem making a gateway to addiction (drugs, alcoholism) and therefore self destruction.

My biggest challenge was to find a personal story to be the center of my series. I needed a victim of sexual abuse, a victim of assault, a victim of domestic violence. That person needed to be in the country undocumented and willing to tell her/his story. The center of sexual abuse tried to help asking their patients, Legal Aid did the same. I also contacted EMERGE (Center for Victims of Domestic Violence) counselors, social workers, therapists, all who I had talked to and interviewed about the topic. No one came with a positive response which was no surprise. To talk about your life, your mental health and your "illegal" status is not an easy option.

One day, as I was covering an unrelated story I came across Cristina, she introduced herself and we talked about immigration. She was really excited to tell me that pretty soon she would receive a VAWA visa. I immediately knew she could be the perfect girl to interview. I told her about the project with USC and the Annenberg School of journalism, our fellowship and the topic I was covering. Without me asking she said, "I want to help. I want to tell my story. It's time I talk about what happen to me to prevent other undocumented women to suffer and they also need to know there is help and  a way out." Two days later we visited her at home.

It was not an easy interview; she told me all details about her abusive relationship and the worst came when she almost became a victim of sexual abuse. Her parents and youngest son where present, which made it a bit more uncomfortable, but she was ready to talk.

One of the things that made me feel better about telling her story is when she told me that thru therapy she learned that talking about her experience she was actually getting better. Getting rid of her fears, her anxiety, and her depression. And it did struck me to see such a happy woman, mother, and daughter.

Her story was easy to intertwine with the other interviews I already had. It was the best way to explain the situation thousands of immigrants live. Thru her story and the rest of my interviewees we learned that a "not legal immigration status" should not be a barrier to live under a mental distress. There are help available, non-profit organizations and clinics that provide the help and therapies needed. And also, if someone lives under the shadow of immigration and the shadow of crime, violence or abuse, looking for help can actually lead the person out of both shadows. Healing can open many doors, open eyes, open opportunities.   

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 1

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 2

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 3


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