Analysis Law and Policy

Domestic Workers Face Particular Challenges Reporting Domestic Violence

Sheila Bapat

Once the election is finally over, Congress will decide whether to keep provisions of VAWA that could pose challenges for domestic workers toiling in private homes throughout the United States.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month ended October 31st, but reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act will be delayed until after the election as it remains at an impasse between the House and the Senate. Hanging in the balance are possible changes to VAWA that could pose challenges for the many domestic workers toiling in private homes throughout the United States.

I recently spoke in depth with Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) about a range of issues affecting domestic workers—including domestic violence (DV). As part of its “We Belong Together” campaign, NDWA raises awareness about immigration policies that sometimes cause domestic workers to be deported when they report DV—resulting in families being torn apart, as well as economic challenges due to loss of income.

“We’ve heard numerous cases of domestic workers who are survivors of DV who have called the police, and then been deported. As a result many domestic workers who experience DV are afraid to access resources or even go to a shelter,” Poo explained. “All of the work to support DV survivors is completely undermined by these policies that make people afraid of getting help and speaking out.”

Domestic workers are often foreign-born women who labor as nannies, caregivers and home health aides in private homes throughout the United States. Like many women, domestic workers are vulnerable to DV—but they tend to face can face greater challenges maintaining a stable life or finding safety and security for their children away from their abusers.

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In addition to the risk of being torn from their children, deportation also results in loss of income. Andrea Mercado, the director of California campaigns for NDWA, told Rewire the story of “Maria,” a woman who experienced abuse as domestic worker for years, then  also experienced DV after she married her husband. When she called the police to report the DV, she was deported, and she was unable to support herself.

“They should be able to call police when they need to,” Mercado says, “But the consequences can be particularly dire for domestic workers.”

In light of this, is troubling that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), once reauthorized, may include provisions detrimental to immigrant survivors of DV, including domestic workers. As reported by Rewire earlier this year, there are two competing versions of the bill currently: the House’s version, HR 4970, and the Senate’s version, S1925.

HR 4970 is the troublesome version: Sections 802 and 806 of the house’s bill eliminates the possibility for someone to obtain permanent residence after their U-Visa expires. (U-Visas are temporary visas for victims of crimes. They provide legal status and work eligibility for up to for years, though only 10,000 are issued per year.)  

“These provisions may make all survivors, including domestic workers, fearful from coming forward and reporting DV because they could face deportation,” Grace Huang, Public Policy Program Coordinator, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DV) told Rewire over the phone.

A previous version of HR 4970 also eliminated confidentiality provisions of the current VAWA, and would have required that abusers be informed that their spouse has filed a VAWA self-petition. That provision has since been removed.

By contrast, the Senate’s version of the law is better overall for domestic workers who experience DV. In particular Section 806 of the Senate version makes it easier to waive the two-year waiting period typically required for U-Visa recipients to receive permanent residence.

The two bills likely will not be reconciled until after the election and possibly not until the new Congress convenes in January.

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