Undocumented and unreported

Many immigrants are fearful to admit they have been victims of a crime, mainly because they believe they will be deported from the U.S. if they file a report. One mother feared for not only herself, but also of leaving behind her children.

Nereyda Santos, 34, is an undocumented immigrant mother and a victim of domestic violence, hoping  to one day have a social security number. Santos is Mexican and came to Chicago at the age of 12.

“My parents brought me here so I could get a better education and have a better life,” Santos said. She said she always dreamed she would leave the ranch where her family and she lived. She said she had always wanted to live in a city, but did not know  the city of Chicago was going to be so difficult for her.

Santos is a single mother of two boys, ages 18 and 2 years old. Both of her sons were born in Chicago, which makes them U.S. citizens. Like Santos, many women in the U.S. who are undocumented have suffered from domestic abuse by something they trusted and loved. According to a study by the American Bar Association, about 48 percent of partners of Latinas commit acts of domestic abuse, most often when the women are undocumented. The U.S. can offer some help to protect these victims, but many are too afraid to even report the abuse. If they are lucky, they can eventually escape the abuse, but then face other issues in moving forward with their lives.

“I’ve been looking for a job,” Santos said. “I’ve already been in two situations where I was let go because my social security number didn’t match up with my name.”

Santos said she has tried to learn English, but the problem has always been with her social security number. While these situations don’t stop her search for a job, Santos uses her hobby of being a deejay to help make some money for her children’s basic needs.Working often for friends’ and family’s parties, she makes about $250 per event.

“They do not trust me,” Santos said. “They say ‘that’s a man job, that’s not for you. Once I’m done working, they like the job I do and recommend me to others.”

The group Mujeres Latinas en Acción has helped to empower Latina women, like Santos, with leadership and help programs. Some address issues victims of domestic abuse face. As a former victim of this type of abuse, Santos has learned to trust herself and not be afraid and face the reality of life.

Under the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, an undocumented immigrant who suffers abuse from an American spouse can apply for a green card. This card allows someone who is not a citizen to work in the U.S.

“We help [immigrants] on how to integrate in this country, among other things, ” said Ana Soto, a court lawyer for Mujeres Latinas. “By limiting documents, [many women] cannot exert in their career.”

According to Mujeres Latinas, the Chicago 911 call center reported 197,798 domestic violence calls in 2010. That same year, four victims of 30 homicides resulting from the same abuse were Latina.

Not having a social security number has also affected Santos’s ability to get a driver’s license, get an education, qualify for financial aid, have health insurance and have life insurance.

“If something happens to me, what is going to happen to my children?” Santos asked.

Today, Mujeres Latinas is trying to help Santos find a job. She is also no longer afraid of her ex-husband returning. She said she has faith some day she can get a social security number and start studying to become a social worker. Unfortunately, not every undocumented woman who has suffered from domestic abuse will have the same support Santos has had.


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