Friday, October 10, 2008

Domestic abuse a tragic trap for illegal alien women (Wisconsin State Journal)

Domestic abuse a tragic trap for illegal alien women

THU., OCT 9, 2008 - 10:53 PM


Viviana Tellez-Giron, 33, spent at least seven years in Wisconsin as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, said friends who were preparing for her funeral Thursday.

The friends said Tellez-Giron regularly talked about how her husband used her immigration status as a way to exert control over her, threatening to turn her in to police.

In 2007, he helped her get permanent resident status. A few months ago, she moved out of his condominium and told him she wanted a divorce.

On Saturday, he beat her to death, then hanged himself, authorities said.

She left behind three sons — two in Mexico, and a 6-year-old in Madison who had been living with his father, the man who killed her.

Immigrant women — whether legal or undocumented — in abusive relationships face additional layers of vulnerability, experts say.

Language barriers can make it difficult to seek help, and the fear of deportation can make undocumented immigrants unwilling to seek help from police.

"Even some legal immigrants have become scared by the national climate surrounding immigration," said Josh Freker, policy director for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"They may distrust law enforcement, or they may not know who to trust. They may be living in terror at home, very afraid of being deported and taken away from their children."

Many may not know there are special visas available in domestic abuse situations, Freker said.

Divorce was planned

Viviana Tellez-Giron considered herself a victim of emotional abuse, and planned to file for divorce — she'd moved out of the West Side condo she'd shared with her husband, Salvador Tellez-Giron, 66, and youngest son in June after attempts at counseling and reconciliation failed, said a friend, Varinia del Moral-Smith.

Moral-Smith said the victim had called police once before the slaying. He'd threatened her shortly after she moved out, Moral-Smith said.

Gabriela Garcia, another friend of the victim, said Salvador Tellez-Giron brought Viviana to Madison in 1999 after meeting her in Mexico during a business trip. Over the years, Moral-Smith said, the couple sparred about her immigration status. But Salvador Tellez-Giron told people she was in the U.S. legally, Moral-Smith said.

He was a well-regarded business owner who, with his adult children and ex-wife, had been honored as Wisconsin's Hispanic Family of the Year in 2005 by United Migrant Opportunity Services Inc. for their social services work in Madison.

Eventually, he sponsored her, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Julie Anderson, program director for UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence in Madison, where Viviana Tellez-Giron had been a volunteer and employee. She spent almost a year in Mexico to fulfill a U.S. immigration requirement, then returned to the U.S. in September 2007.

Patricia Tellez-Giron, the eldest daughter of Salvador Tellez-Giron, on Thursday night declined to be interviewed. She would not respond to statements that her father had been emotionally controlling.

It's about control

Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, said it's not uncommon for immigrants to stay in abusive relationships out of fear of deportation or losing their children.

"Being an immigrant can add many stressors to daily life — language barriers, cultural differences, financial stresses, concerns about legal status," Barry said. "In many families, only one member of the household (might) have a job and speak English. Other members of the family rely on that person financially and linguistically as their connection to the English-speaking community."

All that adds to the tension at home for immigrants, she said. "It is important to remember that domestic violence in immigrant relationships is not caused by these stressors, (but) rather can be augmented by it. Many abusers may threaten their victims with deportation or cancellation of any previous legal documentation. For many victims that don't speak English as their first language, these threats are very real and frightening."

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