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Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 2

Fellowship Story Showcase

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 2

Picture of Karla Escamilla

There are millions of people live in United States without a legal immigration status. They face daily obstacles that have adverse effects on their mental health.

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

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 1

Under two shadows: Immigration and Domestic Violence Part 3

Univision Arizona
Saturday, November 2, 2013

There are millions of people live in United States without a legal immigration status. They face daily obstacles that have adverse effects on their mental health. Those stresses are even greater for victims of crimes such as domestic violence. Options and help are out there -- especially for those suffering from anxiety and depression.

A victim of domestic violence, in the shadows and not knowing the options she had, Cristina plunged into her faith.

"My faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe is what gave me strength and allowed me to go forward,” said Cristina.  

She finally left the nest of violence she lived in with her husband. She stayed in a shelter until he disappeared.  For 7 years she lived alone with her children. 

Her life moved forward but inside, she lived with a violent path that affected her emotionally.

“They break you down so much psychologically that you don’t want a relationship with anybody,” Cristina said. 

Broken inside, she finally felt that she was in control of her life. She found a support group to see if she could begin to heal the wounds, understand that it was not her fault, and that her immigration status didn’t need to be a barrier for her.

"What I learned was that you have nothing to fear when speaking to the authorities,” she said.  

She found organizations that provided services without charge and didn’t ask for proof of citizenship or challenge her legal status.

"There are mental health agencies where victims of domestic violence and abuse can go for help counseling – completely free,” said Martha Lomeli, a physician. 

A center for abuse victims in Southern Arizona has the psychological help victims need to cope and move forward – regardless of a client’s immigration status.

"We do intervention through group or individual therapy,” said Norma Magdaleno.

Each case is different. What you have to do is seek out that help, she explains. 

"Here in the U.S., we need to communicate clearly that – independent of your legal status – you deserve to have your dignity respected, as well as your rights,” said Isaura Dominguez, a social worker.

Cristina heard about it, searched it out and took advantage of these resources. And her self-esteem returned.

"Today, I realize that it was not my fault,” she said.

Even if someone is undocumented, there is psychological help for them. These support groups are taking people out of the shadows that affect their mental and emotional wellbeing. 

"When they come here they are surprised to learn, to see, that if you have rights. And there are people who understand to get out of their mess and start the process to help them fix their status,” said Magdaleno.

And while country waits for Congress to draw up and implement immigration reform, the decision to overcome abuse must be made by each victim

"The first step is the most difficult one. but it takes you to a life of peace and safety for you and your family,” said Dominguez.

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