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Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 1

Fellowship Story Showcase

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 1

Picture of Karla Escamilla

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

The fear of one’s immigration status leads many to stay silent and learn to accept unhealthy situations. 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 2

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 3

Univision Arizona
Friday, November 1, 2013

Cristina is a young mother, who for seven years was a victim of domestic violence and feared deportation. She suffered emotionally but found tools to cope with her immigration status. She wanted to tell her story so that other women won’t suffer in the same way.

"I met the father of my children in Mexico, and we came here to start a life together,” said Cristina.

In love with the idea of starting a family, she left her career and gave up freedom for the fear that comes with being undocumented.

Shortly after arriving, her husband started abusing her physically and emotionally. She was victimized because she was afraid of being deported and separated from her children. She didn’t trust the authorities with her secret and her mental, emotional and physical health began to deteriorate. 

"I felt like a little ant – growing smaller and smaller,” said Cristina. 

She is not alone. Thousands of men and women live under the oppression of domestic violence. And for undocumented victims, the weight is double.

"It’s very depressing,” said Isaura Dominguez, a social worker. “The feeling of not being able to do anything to protect and defend your children.”

And victims sink into a dark period of fear and loneliness, where slowly their self-esteem begins to fade. 

"Unfortunately, anxiety and depression take control of your life,” said Martha Lomeli, a physician.

At the time Claudia lived under the shadow of domestic violence, she survived an attempted sexual assault. She filed criminal charges and the threats began.

“Cristina, if you talk and say what happened, you will be going Mexico,” husband told her.

The threat of deportation is the primary tool of an aggressor – he or she will take advantage of victim’s lack of understanding about his or her rights.

"In more than 50 percent of the cases, victims believe they have no rights in this country,” said Norma Magdaleno. “He has all the power in his hands.”

For years Cristina lived with the blows, screams and insults. Until the day her husband threatened her with a knife and gun. She feared for her life and lives of her children. 

"As soon as he went out, I got a ride to a shelter,” she said.

She never returned home. She found relief in her faith and began feeling in control of her life again.

“My physical wounds healed but spiritual wounds remained,” Cristina said. “What’s more, they grew bigger and my feelings of guilt did too.”

Getting out of a dangerous and violent situation is not enough. Faith and spirituality help, but can’t bring complete healing. What’s needed is psychological support, services that are not openly available to undocumented immigrants. 

"The emotional pain doesn’t heal. It takes counseling to better one’s negative emotions.”

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