Mano A Mano to provide assistance for undocumented immigrants facing domestic violence
The Mano A Mano Family Resource Center is expanding services for undocumented immigrants who are victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence.
Mano A Mano, based in Round Lake Park, has received an $84,000 grant to work with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and A Safe Place, based in Zion, to help undocumented immigrants who are victims of trauma obtain protection and residency, in some cases.
"When people are in abusive situations, they are afraid to come forward and that can be worse in immigrant households," program director Megan McKenna said. "We know that with the pandemic, this problem has only gotten worse."
The grant was awarded by HEALS, which stands for Help Everyone Access Linked Systems and is an Illinois social service aimed at assisting children in violent households.
Mano A Mano seeks to help victims of all ages obtain help that could include protection against deportation while cases move forward. This can include obtaining special visas or other legal residency for immigrants who are victims of kidnapping, sexual assault, human trafficking or other serious crimes.
The visas allow victims to remain in the U.S. and assist law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
Mano A Mano has not submitted any applications for visas but is reviewing 40 cases.
Domestic violence reports have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and undocumented individuals are extremely vulnerable to their abusers. According to the National Organization for Women, abuse rates among immigrant women are as high as 49.8%, three times the national average.
The Illinois TRUST Act, signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2017, restricts local law enforcement from collaborating with federal immigration agents to detain anyone without a judicial warrant. It helps ensure that going to police will not result in domestic violence victims' being detained.
However, obtaining the special visas can be a long wait. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are more than 152,000 pending applications.
"The wait for obtaining one is the most challenging part," McKenna said. "It's one of those situations that empowers the victims, but the system is broken."
• Trey Arline is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.