Help is available for victims of domestic violence

Domestic violence is a crime of power and control. It can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, age, economic status or cultural background.

It can also affect people regardless of their immigration status.

As an attorney with the Survivors Immigration Legal Project (SIL Project) at Legal Aid Society, I work with one of the most vulnerable groups in America for domestic violence — the immigrant population. I am not here to wade into the heated debate about our immigration policies in general, but the fact remains that domestic violence is not something that anyone should have to endure. There should be no exceptions.

Immigrant victims of domestic violence face a unique dilemma that others do not. They are often reluctant to report abuse because they don’t want to be deported — a vulnerability that their abusers are aware of and use to exert control over the relationship. The victims also may not understand the English language, may not understand what behaviors are considered abusive in our culture, and crucially, may not know the legal rights they have.

Legal Aid Society’s SIL Project offers free legal assistance in immigration matters for low-income survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault across 48 counties in Middle Tennessee. Because Nashville is a resettlement center, our immigrant population tends to be quite diverse, covering a wide range of different countries and languages, including a good number of Spanish-speaking clients. The majority of our clients are women, but we also represent several men.

Tennessee currently ranks No. 5 in the nation for domestic homicide against women, according to a recent study from the Violence Policy Center. U nonimmigrant status, commonly known as U visas, introduced in 2000, are statuses available to people who have been victims of certain specific crimes — including domestic violence. If a person has been a victim, has cooperated with law enforcement and can show they suffered substantial injuries, he or she can qualify for a U visa. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, we are here to help. Please call Legal Aid Society at 800-238-1443.