According to the NY Times, a horridly cruel, racist and anti-woman NY State policy is coming to an end. A rule that is entirely prudent and necessary states that domestic violence shelters cannot turn away victims due to their immigration status. However, until recently, those same shelters could not receive government reimbursement for the work they did with undocumented immigrants:
The two organizations, My Sister’s Place and the Northern Westchester Shelter, received not a dime of government reimbursement for helping her. That is because Lillian is an illegal immigrant. The shelters have housed, fed and counseled such women without public financing even as the numbers of undocumented women seeking help in Westchester has soared, with the growth in the county’s proportion of immigrants. These days, one out of every four shelter dwellers is undocumented, by some government estimates.
The shelters cannot — and philosophically will not — bar their doors to undocumented immigrants and so must swallow the costs, roughly a total of $250,000 for each organization over the past four years. To make up deficits, Northern Westchester, which has a $1.7 million budget, said it let go two lawyers and cut health insurance payments for its staff.
Karen Cheeks-Lomax, executive director of My Sister’s Place here, said she believes that “no woman should be stuck in a lifetime of battering,” but even if she believed otherwise, state law requires shelters to take in women regardless of their immigration status, a not-laughable Catch-22.
“It’s a significant inconsistency in terms of what we’re mandated to do,” she said. “You’re asking us to serve women and telling us we can’t discriminate and on the other hand you’re unwilling to provide reimbursement.”
Clearly, it is not okay to financially punish organizations designed to help victims of domestic violence for doing precisely that. Workers should not be left to pick up that tab with lost benefits, and victims should not be left to pick up that tab by receiving decreased services. The good news is that last month, Governor Paterson signed into a law a bill promising reimbursement to shelters for the services they provide to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. With any luck, checks will be arriving soon.
The rest of the article goes into some of the unique challenges faced by undocumented women in abusive relationships, and how the discrimination they face due to immigration status can compound their inability to leave. It’s worth checking out. The women for whom shelters were previously not receiving reimbursement are those in some of the most dire need. It’s endlessly amazing how willing we are to turn away from the most vulnerable members of our society for reasons of pettiness, bigotry and indifference.