During this pandemic home has become many things. Home has been where we work, where our children go to school and camp, and a place to stay safe and healthy.
For many, however, home is not safe. Domestic violence affects millions of people a year — it knows no race, ethnicity, gender, class, language or religion.
This October, for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we stand together united against this senseless violence — honoring the strength and resilience of the millions of survivors and uplifting those we have lost.
I especially want to recognize the heart-wrenching challenges many of our immigrant residents face in this time of crisis. We know that fear and uncertainty about potential immigration consequences can cause many immigrant survivors of domestic violence, especially those who are undocumented, to not report incidents of abuse. This is particularly true at a time when the federal government has been relentless in its attacks on our immigrant community.
Instead of inciting fear, we need to build upon reasoned policies that seek to instill trust among all immigrants and separate fears of immigration enforcement from local criminal justice to make immigrant survivors and our communities safer.
Under New York City’s confidentiality policy, if you are an undocumented immigrant who is a victim of a crime, you may report the crime to the New York City Police Department without fear of being investigated for your immigration status. The New York City Police Department will never ask victims of crime about their immigration status.
Laws like the federal Violence Against Women Act permit immigrant survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking to file for an immigrant visa petition on their own, without the knowledge of their U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser. These protections are available to all individuals regardless of sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Immigrant victims of certain serious crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, may be able to get a U visa or a T visa. These visas provide temporary, renewable immigration status for up to four years; the ability to apply for employment authorization; and temporary status for certain family members. They can ultimately lead to permanent residence (a “green card”). In the State of New York, U and T visa holders are also eligible for cash assistance, Medicaid, and other public benefits.
To get information about these protections and to connect with services, call the NYC Family Justice Center in Queens Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at (718) 575-4545. Help is available in over 20 languages.
While many of our physical locations are closed, please know that the city is still here for you and our services continue to be available to support survivors of violence. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the Family Justice Center if you are experiencing violence at home and need help. Our laws protect your personal information and forbid city employees from conducting immigration enforcement. The Family Justice Centers can help you with:
• planning for your safety;
• applying for public benefits, shelter, housing, and other support services and programs;
• mental health and counseling services for you and your children to support emotional well-being;
• referrals to job training and education programs, including educational workshops to help with budgeting, credit repair, resume writing and interviewing skills;
• legal help for orders of protection, custody, visitation, child support, divorce, housing and immigration; and
• connecting to trained law enforcement, such as the NYC Police Department, the NYC Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
You can also call NYC’s Domestic Violence Hotline — available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — at 1 (800) 621-4673 (HOPE), via TTY at 1 (866) 604-5350, or you can visit the NYC HOPE Resource Directory online at nyc.gov/NYCHOPE. For all life-threatening emergencies please call 911.
All of our communities are safer when those who experience abuse can come forward, instead of feeling trapped in the shadows. Everyone deserves the right to be in a healthy relationship and end an unhealthy one. The city is here for you to make sure you have the help you need to exercise that right.
Bitta Mostofi is Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.