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Under Two Shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 3

Fellowship Story Showcase

Under Two Shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 3

Picture of Karla Escamilla

Living in the United States without a legal immigration status has millions of people living in shadows. They are confronted by mounting obstacles on a daily basis that provoke serious negative effects on their health, especially mental health.

Karla Escamilla reported this story for Univision Arizona as a 2013 California Endowment Health Journalism Fellow. Other stories in the series include:

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 1

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 2

Univision Arizona
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Living in the United States without a legal immigration status has millions of people living in shadows. They are confronted by mounting obstacles on a daily basis that provoke serious negative effects on their health, especially mental health.

Millions of people have immigrated to this country with the same purpose, for a better life. But they also come across the same obstacles due to their immigration status.

“Ninety-nine percent of people who are undocumented and living in the United States will be living in fear because of uncertainty that do not belong here,” said Dr. Martha Lomeli.

Fear of the immigration system, the state and its authorities; fear that someone else has control of your life.

“The loss of hope and a constant state of anxiety remain. Depression is very common in anxious undocumented immigrants,” she said.

Undocumented immigrants living under the shadow of oppression, feel like victims of their choices -- decisions made for the well-being and future of their families.

"The moment I entered this country I was a victim. Many times don’t have the same privileges that others do. And it will be easy to be fooled or abused,” said Norma Magdaleno.

Not having papers to legally live and work increases risk of abuse for immigrants and increases their vulnerability. They become victims of people who take advantage of them at work.

Spouses use it to abuse their partners physically and psychologically. Or, as victims of theft, assault or rape, immigrants fear reporting it to the authorities or seeking medical help.

"In this anti-immigrant climate that we live now, going to a hospital, to a police officer and asking for help, immigrants feel afraid of being outed or being asked about their legal or immigration status,” said Dominguez Isaura, a social worker.

And because of that fear, thousands of undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime or abuse remain silent -- a silence that your mental health and ability to live a healthy life.

"Everyone hurts. There’s no family member who doesn’t suffer,” said Lomeli.

One begins to feel lonely, hands tied, without the will to fight. Symptoms of chronic depression have a domino effect that can lead to self-harm.  Many fall into alcoholism, drug addiction. And chronic diseases like obesity, where food becomes an addiction.

"One woman told me, 'My weight helps me keep my father from ever trying to get approach me. He doesn’t like heavy women.’ She told me in those words.”

Without medical and psychological help, emotional imbalances can take a person into a vicious cycle of self-destruction and violence.  Among Hispanics -- especially immigrant families -- domestic violence is one of the greatest epidemics.

The fear of one’s immigration status leads many to stay silent and learn to accept their situations.

This story was originally featured in Spanish on Univision Arizona and was translated by Albert Sabate, community manager for Center for Health Journalism Digital.