Written by Rebecca Jackson
Immigration reform is a pressing political issue in the United States as people from around the world cross borders to find better opportunities for themselves and their families. A Latina making an impact to help immigrants is Christina Garica. Christina Garcia is the Program Coordinator for the Battered Immigrant Women department at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. That’s a long title for a crucial job.
Garcia’s Contribution to Her Community
In her own words, Garcia “takes care of people who are victims of crimes and domestic abuse.” She does this by connecting clients to the visas they need to stay safe.
The first is a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Visa which protects women who are married to United States citizens and suffer from domestic violence. The Violence Against Women Act, which was first passed in 1994, created a number of laws that politicians hoped would help prevent violence against women and provide better support for women who had experienced violence. Legislators at the time realized that many non-citizen and undocumented people, mostly women, experiencing domestic violence were not reporting the abuse to the police for fear of losing their immigration status and being deported. The VAWA Visa encourages immigrant women to report domestic abuse by giving them access to legal residence that doesn’t depend on their relationship to an abusive partner.
The second type of visa is a U-Visa. A U-Visa allows undocumented people who are the victims of crimes and have cooperated with the authorities to attain legal permanent residence. The U-Visa encourages people to report crimes without fear of deportation. “These issue are right at the center of human rights,” says Garcia.
When asked what she wanted young Latinas to know about domestic violence and the immigrant community she had a lot of wisdom to share.
“I think people tend to view immigration as an isolated issue that only a few people experience, when in reality immigration is this universal issue that happens all over the world. If you sit 10 people down in a room at least half of those people know an immigrant,” she said.
For Garcia, acknowledging that immigrants make up an important portion of our communities means that “when we confront violence against women we can’t focus only on women who are citizens or who have papers.”
She wants Latinas to be aware that, “it doesn’t matter what immigration status you have, if you are the victim of a crime or the victim of domestic violence, or if someone is pushing you to do something that you don’t want to, than it’s important to know that this isn’t right and that there is something that you can do about it. If it isn’t happening to you, it might be happening to someone you know, or it might happen to someone you’ll meet in the future.”
She took a breath before leaning forward and emphasizing that, “it is important to know that there are people who can help and you don’t need to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the assistance that you need.”
Garcia’s last comment points to the importance of organizations like Las Americas. Immigration law is complicated. Cases take a long time and require lots of complex paperwork to be filled out correctly, efficiently, and then sent to the right government office. Very few people could get all of that done without legal assistance from an attorney or someone professionally trained in immigration law. Unfortunately, hiring a lawyer can be extremely expensive (not to mention the money the government charges you just to turn in you paperwork!) and many of the people who qualify for VAWA or U-visas are low income. So Garcia and the other wonderful ladies of Las Americas work to provide immigrants with quality legal care at low cost. For Garcia it all comes down to giving back.
“As a Latina and a low-income person who had the opportunity to be educated, I think it’s kind of an obligation to give back to your community at some point in your career. I think I’ve been blessed to be able to do that here. It would be so cool if everybody thought like that,” she said.