Couraging Along: Domestic Violence Asylum Law
Here's the news: Recently, about a month ago, on june 11, 2018, attorney general Jeff Sessions "overturned asylum protections for domestic violence victims that could affect thousands of asylum seekers" (nytimes). Previously, asylum seekers could make claims that they suffered violence or persecution related to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or their particular social group (a broad category that included relatives of legal dissidents, LGBTQ people, people affected by domestic violence, and people fleeing from gangs) (nytimes). With Jeff Session and the Trump administration's new policy in place, people must now "establish membership in a particular and socially distinct group that exists independently of the alleged underlying harm, demonstrate that their persecutors harmed them on account of their membership in that group rather than for personal reasons, and establish that the government protection from such harm in their home country is so lacking that their persecutors' actions can be attributed to the government" (phillytrib). Basically, this means that domestic violence and gang violence asylum seekers are now required to provide evidence that they have experienced domestic and/or gang violence, prove that a specific person or group targeted them for the domestic and/or gang violence, and provide evidence that their government failed to protect them.
As someone who was born and raised in the united states and has never faced any immigration or race-related threats, I cannot fully emotionally understand the impact of this policy on immigrant, naturalized, scared, previously-planning-to-immigrate, etc. families. What I do know is that people in violent situations deserve access to multiple options of escape and healing. If folks are living in a region or country where the government does not support the person or people being battered and their families and friends are unwilling to help for fear of ridicule or abuse by the batterer(s), fleeing or staying are among the few options. When the united states closes its borders to fleeing folks, then those folks have one less option for how to heal. Even if we all cannot understand what it means to be an immigrant, we must know what it is like to have our options of healing and escape limited by external forces. When has having an escape or healing route closed ever felt good to us? And why would we want anyone to have to experience that?
My own experiences with closed healing routes have been more internal than external. I have previously felt uncomfortable using a sexual assault hotline because my history of domestic violence more prominently included emotional, financial, and verbal abuse, have previously felt that domestic violence services may not fully accept me and my story since I am queer, and have previously felt stopped myself from using any services because I felt I would not be accepted or understood. These "internal blocks" were very much so internalized violence by a homophobic and transphobic society that more readily accepts female victims over any others and a society that strictly defines violence as physical and sexual (without also acknowledging psychological, emotional, financial, verbal).
I can imagine for immigrant folks living in the united states or outside the united states, as first-generation, second-generation, third-generation, fourth-generation, as brown, black, asian, pacific-islander, mixed-race, or white, people are feeling the effects of this policy on their own decisions to seek out healing resources. I'm sure we are all feeling some kind of "internal block" to using resources unless we are economically privileged, able-bodied and able-minded, heterosexual, american women or men. I can imagine thoughts of: If the country as a whole won't accept people like us, then why would we want to use its services to heal and to find justice? What even is justice, if people like me are being denied access, or are being arrested or deported or killed? And how can we, as those affected, as activist, as allies, as healers, help heal and support ourselves and our immigrant friends, allies, and communities, here and abroad?
Educate Yourself: If you are not an immigrant or not directly connected to an immigrant community, educate yourself on immigration law, healing resources available for immigrants (immigration centers, region/language-specific domestic violence shelters, churches), immigrant neighborhood(s) near you, and violence(s) being done to immigrants near you (are there family detention centers or jails heavily filled with immigrants near you?). Some organizations that I have heard of in the Philly area are: Juntos, Galaei, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. Lots of events are going on now to end family separation and state-sanctioned violence against immigrant folks, many of which are mentioned on the above websites.
Build Communities of Support Around You: For folks with traumatic or threatening relationships with the criminal justice system, using police and the legal system to heal from domestic and other violence can be even more traumatic and could worst-case scenario result in the killing or deportation of a loved one. Think about how you - as an ally, activist, person-in-need-of-healing, supporter - can build communities of support with your friends and loved ones. Can you have weekly meetings to talk about relationships? Can you work out emergency shelters at each other's places of living, in case anything were to happen, when it does? Can you find ways to confront the abuser(s) without putting anyone at more risk?
For People with the Political/Citizenship Privilege: Contact your congresspeople about the need to support immigrants and immigrant rights. Openly refuse to support laws or policies that harm immigrants and encourage people you know and places you work to do the same. Educate others you know, including your children, your friends, and your co-workers about the wrongs of current immigration laws and policies.
Love Yourself and Allow For Yourself to Heal: Easier said than done. Loving yourself can be quite hard, especially when the state is trying to break you down at every moment. Claim yourself - all the good and bad and in-between parts of yourself - and dance to the music you consider home, embrace this moment of life you are existing in, feel the valleys and mountains in the wrinkles of your hands and follow them to where they lead you. Think about what and who you love and let yourself have time to experience those feelings. If you don't have access to the places or people you love right now, can you try daydreaming about them or writing about them or otherwise experiencing the sensations?
These are musings of a white, us-born and raised citizen. Please comment or message if you feel hurt or harmed by anything I have written, and I will work to make myself accountable and change my words for the future. And if you ever have anything to say, feel free to comment and add your own to this blog, comment and we can make a blog post by you.
Today's quote, by Rosario Morales in This Bridge Called My Back, 4th Edition page 89, "I'm saying that the basis of our unity is that in the most important way we are all in the same boat . all subjected to the violent pernicious ideas we have learned to hate . that we must all struggle against them and exchange ways and means . hints and how tos . that only some of us are victims of sexism . only some of us are victims of racism . of the directed arrows of oppression . but all of us are sexist . racist . all of us"
Knowing that, how will we support ourselves and one another, be aware of the harm we enact on ourselves and one another, heal ourselves and one another?
Love to you all,