Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 3

Visas Out of Hell: Women Need to Know They Exist

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Graciela Beines endured two years of abuse by her ex-boyfriend out of fear of deportation. Now she wants others to know about the U visa, which permits immigrant victims of crimes to escape the violence and stay in the U.S.

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Finding Support

Advocates there put her in touch with lawyers and social workers.

She lived in the apartment for 12 days and then moved to a shelter in Manhattan operated by the Violence Intervention Program.

There she met Tania Rodriguez, a lawyer who would be by her side during the following months, making life seem bright again, she said.

In that shelter she learned about the U visa, a special permit for immigrant victims of crimes given to 10,000 people annually and valid for four years. Although Congress passed U visa legislation in 2000, the regulations were stalled in the U.S. Justice Department until 2007.

"She got the deferred action, as the regulations of the visa were not approved until October 2007," said Marisol Arriaga, a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence cases of undocumented immigrants. Deferred action allowed some immigrants to get an interim visa while the regulations were awaiting approval.

"After three years with a U visa, they can apply for a permanent residence," Arriaga said. "It's one of the few non-immigrant visas allowing this."

The criteria for this visa, Arriaga said, are diverse. But one key element is that a victim must cooperate with law enforcement in the related criminal investigation.

The lawyer said this visa is an essential benefit for undocumented immigrants. Unless they have children who are citizens, the undocumented don't qualify for other benefits in criminal incidents.

"If I had known of the U visa, that I was gonna have all the support from the shelter that I had, I wouldn't have put up with the abuse for two years. I resisted for two years because of ignorance," Beines said.

During the following months, Beines received free housing, food and legal and psychological help.

Back to Work

As soon as her physical wounds healed, she started working again to provide for herself.

And she did so legally. In early 2003 she had a one-year renewable work permit, which is part of the benefits provided by a U visa.

"Most of our clients don't know that this benefit actually exists," said Terry Lawson, a lawyer in the family unit of Legal Services NYC-Bronx.

With the visa or without it, immigration status doesn't matter when it comes to reporting domestic violence to the police, said Violeta Garcia of the New York-based Steps to End Domestic Violence. "They will never ask for immigration papers."

"I had a lot of fear. But I would like other women to know that this city helps," Beines said.

These days Beines keeps pictures of her abuser in a brown box, together with pictures of Argentina and her family. It doesn't disturb her, she said.

She talks about her abuser as though he was nothing more than a slight acquaintance, someone with whom she happens to have lost touch. She uses the same tone of voice, the same Argentinean humor she uses to describe the details of her daily routines.

"One thing I like doing in the morning is to look at myself in the mirror. 'Hi, beautiful, how are you,'" she mimicked with a smile.

Although the abuse has left her with anxiety and fears--her abuser was set free from jail only several months after the arrest--she remains positive.

Beines now shares a small two-bedroom apartment in the South Bronx with her two cats and works as a real estate agent in Manhattan.

"You have to overcome all of this, you have to survive," she said.

Almudena Toral, a La Caixa Foundation fellow, is a reporter and photographer from Spain. She holds degrees in journalism and international relations.

For more information:

Violence Intervention Program:

National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence (Alianza)

East Harlem Coalition against domestic Violence:

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Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration


Series Overview

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 12

Few Care for the Undocumented With Breast Cancer

Part: 11

Nebraska Prenatal Bill Stirs Fight Over Immigration

Part: 10

Visas Out of Hell: Women Need to Know They Exist

Part: 9

Deportation of Mothers in Iowa Tests Local Charity

Part: 8

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Part: 7

For Street Vendor, Another Holiday in Shadows

Part: 6

Arrested Iowa Meat Packers Live in Legal Limbo

Part: 5

Battered Immigrants in Arizona Find Few Havens

Part: 4

Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women

Part: 3

Immigrant Survivors of Abuse Seek Freedom

Part: 2

U Visas Speed Up for Immigrants Who Flee Abuse

Part: 1

U Visa Recipients Look for Better Enforcement