Speaking up, Speaking out for Immigrant Survivors


Last week was an exciting one for participants of REACH’s Latinas Know Your Rights (LKYR) program and the staff who work with them. Their efforts were instrumental in defeating a controversial piece of proposed legislation that would have had severe consequences for immigrant families, particularly victims of domestic violence.

We’ve written before on this blog about the connection between immigration and domestic violence, and about REACH’s innovative efforts to build capacity and mobilize the Latina community in Waltham. In March, some of them traveled to Washington DC to advocate for fair immigration policies that would keep families together.

More recently, the LKYR group has joined the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee (MIRA) Coalition in opposing the proposed Amendment 28 to the Housing Bond Bill, which would not only have denied affordable shelter to undocumented immigrant families, but also to many classes of documented immigrants, including those with Temporary Protected Status, such as survivors of the devastating Haitian Earthquake and Salvadoran Civil War, as well as those with U Visas, such as domestic violence victims, and those applying for asylum, such as torture survivors.

In a 31 to 7 vote on July 30, the State Senate defeated the amendment, just one day after advocates for immigrants, affordable housing, workers’ rights and survivors of domestic violence mobilized to protest the amendment and speak with their Senators. Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director for the MIRA Coalition reflected on the vote. “The language of the amendment appeared minimal, but it masked a devastating impact.  Many legislators who initially seemed open to the proposal were not aware of its true repercussions and, once made aware by constituents directly affected, recognized how contrary it was to our state’s values.  We feel grateful that constituents were given time to make their voices heard and to help educate their Senators.”

One of these voices was Dora R., a domestic violence survivor who has worked with REACH and has given permission for her name and photo to be used. “I am very thankful to my Senator and to the State Senate for doing the right thing. As a victim of domestic violence, I was granted a U Visa and waited for 7 years to receive public housing. If we were to lose housing now, we might end up sharing a bedroom with a family we do not know or, my biggest fear, returning to my abuser to be hurt again, with my children suffering.”

Latinas Know Your Rights Program is a program REACH offers in partnership with Greater Boston Legal Services to provide education to Latina women in order to build capacity within the community, so that they can be a resource for their mothers, sisters, and friends around domestic violence and related issues. Participants in this program attend a series of classes to learn about a whole range of issues that can impact domestic violence survivors.  At the completion of the class, we encourage them to find an issue that’s important to them and help them organize around it to affect change.

The latest group of participants to go through the initial class graduated on June 3rd, with Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy in attendance to help us hand out diplomas. In all, 33 women graduated from the program this round. Gladys Ortiz, who coordinates the program, said, “We accomplished our goal for this group which was to bring in guest speakers from different backgrounds such as a probation officer, someone form Emerge (batterer’s intervention program), a victim witness advocate from Waltham District Court, someone from Boston Greater Legal Services, a tax expert, a child therapist from REACH, and the Guatemalan Consul. The women realized that people with power are accessible to the immigrant community regardless of their education level, immigration status, and other barriers that the immigrant community often faces. We lessened the fear that members of the Latino community experience due to ideas they had about government which are based on experiences they had in their own countries. They learned that the legal system is there to help and not hurt them.”

For more information on immigration policies, visit the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.