Migrant Women and the Exploitation they Face By the Ones They Trust in a Foreign Land
Maliha was promised an affluent life and scope for higher studies by her husband, 2 years later she stays stranded, betrayed, and exploited.
Maliha Masud (25), being a bright student, doing a bachelor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, wanted to complete her studies and become someone her parents will be proud of. She was promised a scope to get her Masters done from a good university in the United States by her in-laws but was left wounded and battered at the door of shelter 2 years later.
Maliha was 20 years old when she got married to an Immigrant male living in the United States who was completing his Masters in a top university. She and her parents were promised that she will be allowed to study and work after marriage and migrating to the United States should be put as a preference. The marriage was arranged by a reputed marriage media. To meet the requirements of dowry money her father sold their only property and even bought the entire family plane tickets to travel to the United States after bearing all expenses of the lavish wedding ceremony.
“I was tricked,” said Maliha to The Inter Press Service. “They robbed me and my parents. My marriage only lasted for 2 years and it was the worst 2 years of my life. As soon as we arrived in the United States, they took my passport, wedding jewelry, and all study documents. I was barred from leaving the house and the only way I could have communication with my parents was through using a landline and allowed to talk when one of my inlaws are present in the room. I was trapped and exploited. My ex-husband had a love affair with a woman here and inlaws tried to make him end it by getting him married to me against his will. They threatened me that I am nothing but a refugee here and after they found me trying to call the police they burned all my documents.”
Maliha was beaten and left at the gate of a local shelter in California. After months of treatment, she recuperated. She had no papers to prove her identity and her passport, certificates, along with all of her belongings were destroyed. With the help of community outreach and government help, she could finally establish her identity and retrieve whatever was left in her in-law’s house. Her husband was taken in custody and faced trial for battery and now has a permanent criminal report for engaging in domestic violence.
After she healed with therapy and trauma assistance, Maliha moved to the East Coast. A New York-based NGO named SAFEST (South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship & Training, Inc) supported her with shelter and helped her to complete her studies. After 4 years, she is now self-sufficient and became actively involved in helping other women dealing with trauma and in raising awareness within the Immigrant community.
According to the New York Times, the number of victims rose to 2,237 in 2017, a 19 percent increase from the 1,875 killed in 2014 The majority of the victims in 2017 were women, a total of 1,527. Women also often do not report the abuse to police, believing the process to be futile. In a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees survey of women who had demonstrated to the United States officials a credible fear of being returned to their native country, 40 percent of those who said they experienced sexual assaults, rapes, physical attacks, and threats did not report them to police.
IPS asked Maliha about what she thinks are the topmost priorities for ensuring safety for newly arriving immigrants, especially for women and children. She replies: “The only thing I can pinpoint will be access to information. When a girl gets married and comes to the US she naturally becomes dependent on her husband and in-laws. I could speak English and could reach out for help. But I felt overwhelmed with fear with the threat of abandonment and I had no relatives or ties here.”
Mazeda A. Uddin who runs the NGO named: SAFEST mainly focuses on the Immigrant community from South Asia in New York City and has helped more than 120 females to get rehabilitated, after surviving extreme domestic violence. She also caters to Males and the LGBTQ community for rehabilitation and job readiness. During her discussion with the Inter Press Service, she comments that “I get calls not only from New York State but also from other states from girls who are desperate for help but do not have enough courage to call the police or speak up. Most of the cases we deal with are immigrant women who came to this country by marriage and they are denied a normal life or scope to integrate. It is very common to see isolation as a tactic to keep them indoors and documents to be taken away. Also, threats of deportation, threats of harming relatives back home, and using children as a means to inflict more harm are very common for the Asian demographics .”
She mentioned that most cases her organization deals with are from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and China. The victims are aged mostly around 18–35 and come to the USA under spouse visa, H1 Visa, tourist visas, and many live as undocumented personals.
According to the Migration Data Portal, female migrants face stronger discrimination and are more vulnerable to mistreatment compared to male migrants. According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Number 5 (2019) to Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all women and girls it has been stated that, over the past 25 years, there has been progressing in reforming laws towards improving gender equality, yet discriminatory laws and gaps in legal protection remain in many countries. On the basis of data collected across four areas of law in 2018 from 53 countries, almost a third have legal gaps in the area of overarching legal frameworks and public life, more than a quarter have legal gaps in the area of violence against women; and 29 percent and 24 percent have legal gaps in the employment and economic benefits area and in the marriage and family area, respectively.
Mazeda explains that although the United States does not include gender as grounds for asylum if women are subjected to gender-based violence, they may qualify for protection through the asylum program. If a man or a woman declares themselves belonging to the LGBTQ community and can show proof of hostility in their own countries, they can receive asylum in the US too.
She has partnerships with various organizations that cater to various demographics and minority communities and provide extensive mental, financial, and emotional support. Erasing the Language barrier and English as a Second Language Training is also a very important component to combat domestic violence and she categorizes this as a mandatory requirement. Many times, women stay crippled and homebound for the lack of communication and the abuser uses this blatantly.
Under the Violence Against Women Act, several immigrants and nonimmigrant visa categories are available for victims of partner violence, sexual assault, rape, or human trafficking. Spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (i.e. green-card holders) may be eligible for permanent residence on the basis of that abuse, allowing victims to obtain lawful status without their abuser being notified and to move toward a life of safety and independence. There is no limit on the number of visas available for the abused spouses of U.S. citizens; the visa is open to all genders, and applicants are not required to show lawful admission.
From the insightful discussion, IPS had with both Mezeda and Maliha it can be easily assessed that the information gap and knowledge of available help works as the main hindrance for women to reach out for help. There needs to be community-based, grass-roots effort, and language options available for anyone to reach for help.