María Teresa Rodríguez suffered in silence.
“I was married to a man for 10 years and experienced all kinds of abuse,” she said. “I never went for help because I felt threatened by him. He said if I ever called the police or talked to anyone then I would be turned over to immigration.
“I have three kids—a 16-year-old, a 7-year old, and a 5-year old—and, for fear of being separated from them, I never told anyone.”
Sandy, the 16-year-old, witnessed some of the abuse. Sandy is a US citizen, because she was born here, but her mother was undocumented.
“My stepfather punched my mother,” Sandy said. “I stood there a couple of times thinking, What can I do? Should I call the police or should I stay quiet forever?
“I was afraid my mom might be sent back to Guatemala and what could happen to me and my siblings.”
María Teresa and Sandy were two of the domestic violence victims at the State House last Wednesday. They spoke at a press conference to a room of legislators, reporters, and other survivors pleading for the passing of the Safe Communities Act.
The bill—sponsored by Reps. Ruth Balser and Liz Miranda and Sen. James Eldridge—aims to reduce the fear undocumented immigrants might have when reporting crimes to the police, calling 911 for an emergency, or even when seeking medical attention.
María Teresa’s husband was arrested after he accused her of beating him. “I’m glad he did it because I would have never dared to report him,” she said.
“I’m here to tell you to go to the police regardless of how risky it may sound. But I’m also here asking legislators for help so that we know for sure police can’t detain us for our immigration status when reporting a crime.”
The specific measures the bill would implement include barring police and court officials from asking about immigration status unless required by law, ensuring people are made aware of their rights and agree to questioning before ICE interviews them, and ending agreements that allow county sheriffs and correctional officers to act as federal immigration agents at state taxpayers’ expense.
Zoila Lopez, another domestic violence victim who spoke at the press conference, recalled waking up in the backseat of her car three years ago after a beating from her husband. She’s from Guatemala but has been living here for 29 years. Her children were born here.
Lopez’s husband was driving the car. “I’m sorry I did this to you but I have to take you to the hospital.”
“Please, don’t do it. Don’t drive me to the hospital. We’ll get in trouble. We don’t have documents.”
They didn’t go to the hospital that day.
When he started beating her again, Zoila reported him to the police and he was arrested.
“I’m here to ask for more support so that people can feel confident, sure, and safe to call the police.”
Rep. Liz Miranda introduced herself as a sponsor of the bill and as a victim of domestic violence.
“A lot of people pay attention to the border, but you don’t have to look at just the border to see families being separated,” Miranda said. “We need Massachusetts residents to wake up and understand that separating and fear is being handed out right here.”