ASIAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS IN QUEENS AFRAID TO SEEK HELP UNDER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
by Muyao Shen
In early 2017, Bomsinae Kim, the executive director at the Korean American Family Service Center (KAFSC) in Flushing, Queens, noticed a drop in the number of calls recorded on their domestic violence hotline. The center receives about 150 to 200 calls on average every month on their hotline. But in January 2017, this number fell by a third.
After talking to several clients and local lawyers, Kim said she realized people were holding back because they were anxious about the unknown future with the new administration.
Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the president of the United States in January, he and his administration have toughened immigration policies. As a result, in Flushing, Queens, where more than 69 percent of the population is Asian, advocates working with domestic violence victims are facing a difficult year.
Domestic violence has long been considered as prevalent. A study the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence in 2012 shows that 41 to 61 percent of Asian women in the U.S. have reported being victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
About 80 percent of Kim’s clients are undocumented immigrants. Kim said that after noticing the drop, she started to talk to domestic violence victims more often and read the news daily to find out how the current administration’s new policies could potentially affect her clients, especially since most of her clients grew up in a culture where people prefer to stay silent about their private lives.
Lorna Zhen, a senior staff attorney at New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a social service organization that offers free legal services to women seeking divorce in Flushing, said she also has noticed new fears among her clients this year. Clients come into her office and ask her questions such as “What does Trump’s new tweet mean for me?” “Is this program still going to be here?” or “What does this news mean?”
Zhen said 50 percent of her clients are either undocumented or have lost their previous legal immigration status.
Besides the decreasing number of calls to the domestic violence hotlines, the unusual delay in processing U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa) applications is also alarming for many advocates for domestic violence victims. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, U Visa is designed for “victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. ”
In the U.S., undocumented domestic violence victims can also legitimize their immigration status by applying for a special visa covered by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). While VAWA requires the abused victims to be the spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, many victims who do not meet this condition seek the other option: the U Visa.
Kristen Chi, the executive director at Garden of Hope New York (GOHNY), another nonprofit organization providing services to domestic violence victims in Flushing, said that she is worried for her undocumented clients who help the police investigate their cases.
Without legal status, Chi said that many of her clients cannot start a new life after the investigations because they cannot find work or pay the rent. She said they felt very “stuck.”
Zhen said a U Visa she helped clients apply for two years ago hasn’t yet been approved. But she said it’s hard to blame the Trump administration, since the U Visas that were applied for during the Obama administration still haven’t been approved.
Fears among domestic violence victims increased even more in June when a Chinese woman found herself playing cat-and-mouse with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who were in the courthouse looking for her, first reported by WNYC. She was at the Human Trafficking court in Queens Criminal Court to have her case adjourned.
Toko Serita, the presiding judge told the woman’s lawyer to be aware of the ICE agents nearby. Serita is one of the first judges in the U.S. to treat human trafficking defendants as victims, not criminals.
Though this Chinese woman’s case is considered a unique incident, and not directly associated with domestic violence, the fact that it occurred in a court known for its sympathy towards sexual assault victims, and in Queens, caused an outcry in the Asian community in Flushing.
“For something like that to happen is shocking,” Kim said. “For our clients, we were wondering whether something similar would happen or not.”
During a domestic violence awareness event hosted by GOHNY in Flushing, Sept. 28, Leslie Yuhas, a domestic violence officer at NYPD’s 109th Precinct, told the participants that she would not allow ICE to interfere in her cases.
“When we go out there, I am not going to be like: ‘excuse me, what is your status?’” She said, “You are the victim and I want to help you.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and social workers like Kim and Chi are working on many upcoming events to reach out to potential domestic violence victims in Flushing who might be keeping silent about their problems.
“The NYPD receives more than 270,000 domestic violence cases every year and cases involving Chinese victims alone come to a little more than 5000,” Chi said. “I think it is underreported. So how to encourage them to seek help and how to find the best service for them, those are the problems.”