My name is Tanya Jane Beroukhim and I am the East Texas Circuit Rider for the VAWA Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. Two or three times a year, my job has me travelling out into various cities in rural East Texas in order to reach out to immigrant victims of domestic abuse in underserved areas.
During these trips, I visit with clients, shelters, police departments, and a number of community-based organizations in order to create and maintain relationships that will allow the Texas Civil Rights Project to reach the greatest number of victims who qualify for VAWA relief and to be sure that they are aware of their rights.
What follows is information about my most recent Circuit Ride into rural East Texas. Names have been changed to protect identities.
I drove out of Austin at about 7:30am. My first stop was in Corsicana, at around 10:30.
Navarro County Sheriff’s Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) I stopped by the Sheriff’s office and spoke with an officer who said the Sheriff was busy but that he would pass on the materials.
Corsicana Police Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) The Police Department experience was similar to that had at the Sheriff’s Department. I spoke with an officer, since the Police Chief was unavailable. The officer said that there isn’t much of a Hispanic population in Corsicana and that if they were to encounter a Spanish-speaker they would be able to get an interpreter.
WIC Office (Materials Distributed: 4 English, 4 Spanish) A young lady was working alone when I came by. She said that usually she is there with one other lady but today the other lady’s daughter was sick so she was alone. She said that she does not often see Spanish-speaking ladies come in, but that she has before and she would be happy to have our pamphlets out and available.
Navarro County Courthouse (Materials Distributed: 4 English, 4 Spanish) I went by the courthouse and posted tear-offs and left pamphlets on a table where they had such things set out. I did not see any other Spanish-language documents available.
Meeting with Advocate at East Texas Crisis Center (Materials Distributed: 37 English, 9 Spanish) I met briefly with an advocate at the East Texas Crisis Center just to touch base and discuss a couple of mutual clients. “Gloria Smith” is one intake victim who has been particularly good about keeping in touch with us about her application, and this will likely be a good candidate for our services.
Henderson County Sheriff’s Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) I dropped by the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff was busy but I left materials for him. I asked a young lady working the front desk about the prevalence of domestic violence and of immigrant victims and she said there are many domestic violence cases, although she does not know of many immigrants living in the area.
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Athens Police Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) At the Athens Police Department, I had the privilege of speaking to a detective who investigated a domestic violence incident against our client. I thanked the detective for his assistance in our client’s situation. He explained to me that he is very concerned about victims, but also does not want to see people “take advantage” of the system. Over all, I got the impression that we can maintain a good working relationship with this detective.
WIC Office (Materials Distributed: 4 English, 4 Spanish) Information given to the local WIC office. They will have our pamphlets out in case anyone who comes in is interested in the information. The lady working there had spoken to me on my previous Circuit Ride and remembered our services.
I arrived in Paris late in the evening and went straight to my hotel.
Client Meeting (Materials Distributed: 4 Spanish) I met with a current client to discuss her U-Visa case. She came with her young daughter, and we discussed the required paperwork to add her husband as a derivative. We put together a plan for finishing her case, and I believe this client will be very reliable.
New Victim Intake (Materials Distributed: 4 Spanish) I conducted an initial intake with a client who has a possible U Visa case. She suffered pretty severe abuse at the hands of her husband — including physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. It seems that by the time she separated from him about 4 months before my meeting with her she was completely resolved and ready to move forward with her life. The client was unsure what became of her abuser after he was sent to jail so we set up a Texas VINE account for her. Additionally, I gave her information about the Crime Victims’ Compensation program and discussed steps for registering. A shelter advocate is going to help her register.
Training with Safe-T Paris Crisis Center (Attendees: 5, Evaluations and Quizzes Given/Received: 5) I have worked with an advocate from this shelter very closely on a number of cases in recent months, but this was the first time I got to meet her and speak with her and her coworkers in person. The shelter advocates are all very kind and have come to work in this profession through different avenues. One of the newer advocates is interested in knowing more about domestic violence and immigration laws in Texas in comparison to other states. I told her that I would be happy to get her more information regarding those issues. She seems to want to work on trying to affect actual political change.
Training with Paris Police Department (Attendees: 3, Materials Distributed: 54 English, 25 Spanish, Evaluations and Quizzes Given/Received: 3) Just before we began our training, I overheard a discussion between the Police Chief and some women who had come in to report a domestic violence situation. Chief Hundley advised the women that he would not be able to do much without them reporting a specific incident. He also advised them that if anything happens at all they should call him immediately so that he could help the victim get a protective order against the abuser. The presentation went well, and all of the attendees seemed genuinely interested and concerned about the work that we do.
Client Meeting (Materials Distributed: 4 Spanish) This client came with her eldest son, who is a derivative on her application. In meeting the son, I quickly noticed that his behavior was a bit out of the norm and he appeared to maybe have a mental disorder. I did not bring this up with the client, but later in speaking to an advocate from the shelter, I was told that he has always been in Special Education, although our client has never really been willing to acknowledge his condition.
The client did not have the documents prepared that I was supposed to get from her during this meeting. She said that she has had many issues in getting these things because of her lack of transportation. I suggested we head over to Walgreens to get her passport photos taken right then. While awaiting photo processing, the client asked me about her situation living with the abuser and how that might affect her application. I reiterated that if she is unable to get him to leave the house we cannot fault her for that, but that living with him is not healthy for her or her son.
She said, as she has told me before, that she really wants him to leave but she is afraid of him and he refuses to leave the house. I reminded her that if anything at all happens she should file a report with the police immediately so that she can qualify for a protective order.
Spanish-Speaking Presentation at local Catholic Church (Attendees: 45, Materials Distributed: 40 English, 275 Spanish, Evaluations Given: 45, Evaluations Received: 18) I planned this event with an advocate from Safe-T and church stafff. The Church staff went all out for my presentation, offering refreshments and posting information about the topics I would be covering on the Church bulletin board. In order to tailor my presentation to the crowd, a bilingual priest gave a short preliminary talk about the Church’s stance on the immigrant. He discussed the Parable of the Good Samaritan and drew an analogy between that parable and how the Church interprets those who enter our country in need.
After the priest’s biblical discussion, I took the stage and gave a talk about the particular struggles of immigrant victims of domestic violence, how to recognize domestic violence, and the services our organization offers. I also went through the packet that I brought for everyone and discussed the issues of language access and other TCRP projects.
After my presentation, I was warmly given a standing ovation by all those in attendance. There were about 45 people present, although many showed up after the presentation had already begun and only 32 signed in. I spent about an hour after I spoke talking to different individuals; answering questions and hearing their personal stories. All in all, it was a great success.
WIC Office (Materials Distributed: 4 English, 4 Spanish) Went to WIC office with Patricia, who works there, and set up pamphlets and materials so that people can grab them when they come in if they are interested.
Training with Titus County Sheriff’s Office (Attendees: 7, Materials distributed: 127 English, 43 Spanish, Evaluations and Quizzes Given/Received: 7) As always, I felt very welcomed at the Titus County Sheriff’s Office. I was especially popular during this training because I brought a fabulous selection of donuts. I gave a training VAWA and U Visas.
The officers voiced a concern we’ve heard in the past. They were concerned that some of the immigrant victims do not truly qualify for immigration benefits and are simply trying to take advantage of the system. I explained to them that immigration is very selective, and that ultimately they make the determination that someone qualifies. The Sheriff discussed the possibility of me publishing a story in The Mount Pleasant Tribune about our collaboration. I am definitely going to look into that in the near future.
Training with Safe-T Shelter Staff (Attendees: 3, Materials given: 109 English, 25 Spanish, Evaluations and Quizzes Given/Received: 3) I met with Safe-T shelter staff in the shelter itself, instead of their administrative offices where we usually meet. One new advocate recently moved to Mount Pleasant, Texas from California after spending years and years as a licensed domestic violence advocate. She really wants to get involved in broader policy changes. I mentioned to her that I should put her in contact with the advocate interested in legislative change from the Safe-T Paris office, and she seemed to take interest.
They have a really great and caring bunch of advocates in their organization. This training ran pretty long, and I had a good rapport with the advocates. One advocate said that they are going to go over the materials I gave to them more closely and suggested that maybe we can have a follow-up phone conference to address any lingering questions.
Client Meeting (Materials given: 4 English) After my training with the shelter staff, I had a surprise impromptu meeting with an intake victim that an advocate for Safe-T Mount Pleasant had referred to me who happened to be nearby because she is staying at the shelter. She was very emotional, but seemed to be very driven towards working at her application. I went over the intake follow-up discussion points and we put together a plan for her to continue working on her case.
After this meeting, I had a private lunch meeting with an advocate where we further discussed the differences in services and laws at the disposal of domestic violence victims here and those in California. From there, I headed off to Longview with a pit stop in Daingerfield.
Daingerfield Police Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) The Daingerfield Police Department was already closed by the time I got there, but I left a training packet and a letter for the Chief of Police.
WIC (Materials given: 4 English, 4 Spanish) The local WIC office was just closing up when I arrived, but I spoke briefly to a lady who said she would have our materials available in case anyone comes in. She said that very recently she had seen a Spanish-speaking woman who had a black eye and had wondered about the situation.
I arrived in Longview at around 7:00pm and checked into my hotel for the night.
Longview Police Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) I stopped by the local police department and was told that the chief was not available. I left documents for our services. I was told by the lady at the counter that they always refer domestic violence cases to the local shelter but that it would be useful to have information in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking victims.
Training at East Texas Women’s Center (Attendees: 4, Materials Distributed: 145 English, 37 Spanish, Evaluations and Quizzes Given/Received: 4) This training was great because I already have a great rapport with the ladies who work at this shelter. We got through the training very smoothly and the ladies had their questions well sorted out in advance. The Spanish-speaking advocate said she is still having a lot of trouble getting together a “Promotora” group because the women have such varying work schedules and they often lose contact, but that she still plans to work on it.
Kilgore Police Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish ) Distributed materials to an officer at the Kilgore Police Department.
Crisis Center (Materials Distributed: 37 English, 9 Spanish ) Stopped by the Crisis Center to hand out materials and say hello. A familiar advocate was the only one in the office at the time, but she remembered me and was very friendly. She said that they have not encountered many Spanish-speaking or immigrant victims.
Jacksonville Police Department (Materials Distributed:19 English, 7 Spanish) Distributed materials to an officer at Jacksonville Police Department.
WIC (Materials Distributed: 4 English, 4 Spanish) Distributed materials to a very busy lady working in the WIC office.
Police Department (Materials Distributed: 19 English, 7 Spanish) Distributed materials to an officer at Palestine Police Department.
WIC (Materials Distributed: 4 English, 4 Spanish) Distributed materials to WIC office.
Austin City Limit
Then, I went back home to Austin! All in all, this was a very successful and informative circuit ride.