Armed with a $30,000 grant from the Federation of Independent School Alumnae (FISA) Foundation, Pittsburgh’s Jewish Family and Children’s Service will further its efforts to aid immigrant women who are victims of domestic abuse.
Many of the victims of abuse, who suffer from it because of cultural differences, are unaware that such violence even is illegal in this country.
Through its Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence Project, JF&CS will “raise awareness, expanding the capacity to provide legal services so that more immigrant women who suffer domestic abuse can be identified and helped through this very complicated and time consuming legal process,” said Aryeh Sherman, president and CEO of JF&CS.
JF&CS has partnered with the Allegheny County Bar Foundation and the Pro-Bono Immigration Law Project to train volunteer attorneys to assist with these cases.
While the JF&CS has always worked on such cases, according to its managing attorney Joyce Ramirez, “the game plan,” as she put it, is to solicit more volunteer attorneys to help with the overwhelming caseload.
“This is a new grassroots effort for us,” Ramirez said.
The grant money will provide funds to train attorneys who volunteer to help, but are not versed in immigration law.
“Pittsburgh has a small immigration bar,” said Ramirez. “With the funding from FISA, we can train more lawyers to help. Immigration is not a well-known body of law.”
FISA provides grants throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to help women, girls, and people with disabilities garner respect.
The grant money will also be used to inform abused immigrant women of their rights.
“This is a vulnerable population,” Ramirez said. “They are further underground than immigrants that just have trouble with their status. We are creating informational flyers and brochures, and we are going to target health care facilities where immigrants would most often go. There is definitely a larger need [for help] than people would assume. We have to go out and spread the word.”
One challenge will be to raise awareness among immigrants that abuse is illegal.
“Depending on the country they come from, they may not even realize that what is going on in their household is an offense,” Ramirez said. “It may seem normal. Many times [the abused] have to be educated on the fact that they should not have to put up with that situation.”
The immigration status of the abused can often contribute to her vulnerability, Ramirez added.
“Sometimes the abuser will say, ‘You are only here [in the United States] because of me.’ The abused can become brainwashed or intimidated, and have a fear of deportment.”
While Ramirez heads up the legal part of the project, the JF&CS also provides supplemental services to the victims of abuse, such as counseling and help with housing and childcare.
JF&CS is the only agency in the region that is officially recognized by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, Ramirez noted, providing assistance to those with little or no income.
“We do whatever we can to serve the population,” she said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)