While a community network is being built to help members of the city’s international community find employment, there are still challenges to be met for agencies looking to help immigrants in crisis.
At Barren River Area Safe Space, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, the most recent fiscal year has seen a rise in the total number of crisis calls and intake of residents at the 28-bed shelter.
For the past six years, BRASS has employed two bilingual advocates – one who can speak Spanish and another who can speak Bosnian. Those two advocates help provide services to the two largest non-English-speaking populations in Warren County.
The Kentucky Domestic Violence Association reports that 114 instances of language advocacy and services were provided to clients at BRASS in the 2011 fiscal year.
Also, 10 of the 182 women who stayed at the BRASS shelter in 2011 spoke either Spanish or Bosnian as a first language – a small proportion until you learn that BRASS had the second-highest number of non-English speakers living last year in a domestic violence shelter in the state.
BRASS Executive Director Lee Alcott said that, as with many other agencies, a language barrier and an information gap exists that may prevent some in the international community from being aware of resources that are available to them.
In the context of domestic violence, though, there is also frequently a cultural gap, in which victims and abusers come here from a culture where domestic violence is not as thoroughly addressed in the legal system.
In such cases, it’s crucial for immigrants and refugees who have been helped by the shelter to share their story with others who may need help, Alcott said.
“We find that word of mouth not only in the Hispanic community but in the general population about domestic violence resources is critical,” Alcott said. “If someone had a positive experience in our shelter, they’ll share that with people in their community ... it’s a positive that they feel safe and surrounded by a support system.”
Spanish-language brochures are available at the shelter to help clients connect to additional resources.
The Spanish-speaking advocate at BRASS has developed a rapport with clients over the years that has allowed for a certain comfort level to develop between the advocate and victims who come to the shelter.
“If we have a Spanish-speaking client come in, we try to delay intake until our advocate comes in,” Alcott said.
Residency status can constitute another barrier to safety.
Undocumented immigrants who are victimized by domestic violence often fail to report abuse for fear of deportation, Alcott said.
The federal Violence Against Women Act allowed for the creation of the U visa, which can grant residency to victims of substantial physical or mental abuse.
An applicant has to be able to provide information to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime, and U visa holders can apply for a change in the residency status after three years.
“The victim has to write a very lengthy narrative about the abuse,” Alcott said.
Locally, Kentucky Legal Aid received a grant through the Violence Against Women Act to offer legal assistance to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence.
Scott Crocker, executive director of Kentucky Legal Aid, said the agency ordinarily cannot help undocumented immigrants, but the three-year grant allows Legal Aid to represent domestic violence victims and help them obtain emergency protective orders or change their residential status to help avoid deportation.
“It puts people who have citizenship issues in a real bad situation if they’re unable to obtain any type of legal help when they’re victims of domestic violence,” Crocker said. “I think sometimes abusers recognize this and see it as a way of maintaining control over victims.”
BRASS and Hope Harbor are partnering with Legal Aid on the project, Crocker said.
“In addition to getting a protective order, we’re able to help by establishing custody, child support and we also help obtain a legal status so they are not deported if they cooperate with law enforcement to address their domestic violence situation,” Crocker said.