McCormack Speaks

Social Safety Net for Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence is Fraying


by Anonymous, a McCormack Graduate School student

Homeless womanWhen I heard the story about the woman ICE detained because her allegedly abusive partner reported her, my heart stopped. Any number of women my organization serves could be next. We operate homeless shelters with federal and state funding, which allow undocumented parents with U.S. citizen children to reside in these shelters. Many are fleeing domestic violence situations and are facing complex familial situations and have nowhere else to turn besides the homeless shelter.

With Obama deporting more undocumented immigrants than any other president in history, these families have been dealing with fear and uncertainty for years. However, with the election of our current president, deportation has suddenly become much more discernible to the public. ICE has been much more visible in its deportation proceedings than previously. Many of our direct service staff have been forced to confront the ongoing fears these mothers (and fathers) face day-to-day in a much more tangible way. And while the Obama administration’s guided deportations were focused – particularly on immigrants with criminal records – the deportations so far under our President Trump have been more random and frightening.

Caseworkers are well trained in handling many of the issues of homelessness: employment, education, workforce training, childcare, and housing; even criminal offender record information (CORIs) data requirements are a familiar hurdle for them. While they may not be experts, they understand how to handle these challenges. There are resources available within our organization, from other nonprofits, and from the state government. However, immigration – particularly the increase in undocumented immigrant deportations – is a source of fear, anxiety, and stress.

The policies around immigration have shifted many times since the early 1900s, with residents fearful of new immigrants from undesirable parts of the world. In the 1960s, immigration restrictions loosened with the Hart-Celler Immigration Act (promoted by our own late Senator Ted Kennedy). Now, with the shift back towards a more nationalistic point of view, the status of our undocumented immigrants is even more in flux.

Currently, our staff have begun to prepare and have conversations with mothers about chains of custody in case they are picked up by ICE. My colleagues are saying that these are some of the hardest conversations they’ve ever had in this line of work (and these staffers have difficult conversations with families every day).

Right now, the staff leans on each other for support, resources, and guidance on how to navigate these issues, and it is taking a toll. Their stress builds daily and none of them are fully certain about the right course of action. Historically, they have been able to rely on outside sources, such as Greater Boston Legal Services, but that organization is so overloaded that they are unable to aid new clients in a timely matter.

Even with this hard work, the collaboration between state agencies and nonprofit homeless shelters will likely not be enough to adequately advocate for each family. The case workers struggle with the stark reality every day that they cannot solve these complex issues and need additional resources, particularly legal services, to help them.

Anonymous is an immigrant services caseworker and studies public administration at UMass Boston’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.

Comments can be sent the Professor Christine Brenner, if you want them shared with the blogger:

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