Women face dilemma: Abuse or deportation?
Aug. 3, 2004. 06:31 AM
A caring neighbour at a Scarborough motel saved Ann Dilmohamed from kicks and punches, but the would-be Good Samaritan has also led the Trinidadian woman and her daughter into immigration limbo.
CHARLA JONES/TORONTO STAR Ann Dilmohamed, right, faces deportation and possible separation from her 14-year-old, Canadian-born daughter after her husband was charged with assault.
Dilmohamed, who had lived underground in Canada with her husband and children since 1987, had just been granted conditional landed immigration status, awaiting medical and background checks, when police arrived at the Kingston Rd. motel on April 13 to arrest her husband in connection with the assault.While the 44-year-old woman says she feels "like a bird freed from a cage after living in an abusive relationship for 20 years," she now faces deportation — and possible separation from her 14-year-old, Canadian-born daughter — because of the arrest.
Dilmohamed's husband has been charged with assault causing bodily harm and his case is still before the courts.
Like most immigrant women, Dilmohamed is a dependant to her spouse in her immigration application. Their lives are in their husbands' hands. If the man withdraws sponsorship or is being deported for whatever reason, the wife and their children have no choice but to leave the country.
"Some men use immigration as a weapon in abusive relationships, knowingly. It is a huge bargaining chip because they know their spouses would have nowhere to go but stay in the relationships," says Sudabeh Mashkuri, a lawyer at Toronto's Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which serves survivors of domestic violence.
The plight of abused immigrant women was documented in a recent two-year study by the Canadian Council on Social Development. It found immigrant and minority women are more prone to suffer domestic abuse and less likely to report it.
Based on analysis of a 1999 Statistics Canada survey, the study found 10.5 per cent of immigrant women have experienced emotional or financial abuse, while 4.2 per cent cited physical or sexual abuse. Among the victims, only 10 per cent would report the abuse to police, and 17 per cent would seek help elsewhere, such as counselling and shelter services.
The Schlifer clinic has always had in-house legal counsel to handle domestic-abuse and custody-dispute cases. However, with more files crossing into the immigration domain, the agency hired Mashkuri five years ago to help women like Dilmohamed.
The clinic currently has 856 domestic-abuse files and Mashkuri says half the cases involve victims whose immigration status is jeopardized by their abusive spouses.
"These women are afraid to be sent back to their homelands, which are usually war-torn and poverty-stricken," notes Mashkuri. "Their lives rely on their abusive partners."
Dilmohamed married in 1984 and the couple came to Canada three years later with their two sons, all as visitors. After a failed refugee claim in early 1990s, they moved underground in Scarborough. While Dilmohamed worked as a restaurant chef and domestic help, her husband worked on and off as a construction worker.
Through the help of a friend, the family applied to be landed immigrants on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in 1997. They were later conditionally accepted as landed immigrants because they proved to have already established themselves in the country. (Dilmohamed's two adult sons were removed from Canada in December, 2002, after theft convictions.)
Despite escalating abuse from verbal to physical assaults, Dilmohamed says she did not go to the police because she had no status in Canada and would face deportation.
Her alleged attacker's drinking often led to abuse, she says.
"Sometimes I got beaten up once a week. Sometimes once every two weeks," says Dilmohamed, who is staying in a women's shelter with her daughter.
`Some men use immigration as a weapon in abusive relationships, knowingly'
Sudabeh Mashkuri, lawyer,
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
"I would have bruises and marks on my face, my body. But when he sobered up, he would apologize."
On April 13, Dilmohamed was again punched and kicked at a Scarborough motel, where the family was staying after an eviction. A neighbour saw her bruised eye and swollen face and called police.
Dilmohamed is pleading with immigration officials to allow her to stay in Canada with her Canadian-born daughter. "I just don't want to see her (as a) ward of the Children's Aid Society."
While the clinic can help to persuade the courts to quash Dilmohamed's removal order at no cost, Mashkuri says her client must come up with the $500 for an H&C (humanitarian and compassionate) application herself because the not-for-profit agency simply doesn't have the money. And there's no guarantee applicants will be allowed stay, she says.
Many women are in the same boat as Dilmohamed, Mashkuri says.
Miriam, a hotel worker, met her Canadian husband in 1994 while the man was vacationing in Cuba. They married in June, 2000. The 30-year-old woman was sponsored to Canada as a landed immigrant in May, 2001.
"(The husband) had never been abusive to Miriam when they were together in Cuba," Mashkuri says on behalf of her client, who refused to give her full name. "As soon as Miriam entered Canada, (he) became extremely controlling. She was kept in the house and became a sexual slave to her husband."
The man would force Miriam to watch pornography and demand sexual behaviour like that depicted. "He told her that he had married her for sex and that if she refused he would have her deported from Canada," Mashkuri says, adding the woman filed complaints to police against her husband three times and finally filed for a divorce in Cuba in January, 2002.
Later, the husband claimed to Immigration Canada the couple did not have a bona-fide marriage and withdrew his sponsorship from Miriam, who is now facing removal from Canada.
Some women who flee abuse in their country of origin end up being preyed on by others in their own ethnic communities in Canada, Mashkuri says.
Maricela, a survivor of death threats and rape in Costa Rica, came to Canada with her daughter, now 10, in January, 2001.
The woman was introduced to a paralegal couple in Toronto's Costa Rican community who promised to take her and her daughter under their wing and assist in their refugee claim.
"They drugged her and sexually assaulted her, and threatened to have her deported back to Costa Rica if she told anyone," recalls Mashkuri, adding the couple had done nothing on the woman's refugee file.
Maricela, who asked that her full name not be used, finally contacted police when she saw on the news that the paralegal couple had been arrested for assaults on other Latino women. Three weeks later, she was served with a removal letter by immigration officials.
"Unfortunately, these battered women just seem to be the easiest to deport by our immigration (officials) because they absolutely have nowhere to go," Mashkuri says. "They are just desperate to find a home that's safe from abuse."
Note: This article ignores the fact that many female spousal sponsored immigrants cannot enter Canada without being married to their spouse and false allegations of abuse are an easy way of obtaining subsidized housing, welfare, spousal and child support in an expedited hearing as part of a long term plan.
For the male partner, who has been falsely led to believe that he has a genuine marriage he is suddenly obliged to support the fraud for up to ten years and loses the ability to remarry a foreign resident because immigration rules effectively prevent a second sponsorship during the ten years following the arrival of the first wife in Canada.
Many marriage agencies particularly in the Philippines are run by criminals who carefully coach women on how to obtain a foreign husband and then take him to the cleaners shortly after a one year period in Canada. They chose the one or two year period to maximize the highest amount of spousal support.
The male victims are then left without the economic means to remarry while the alleged victim of domestic abuse then ends up with a lifetime income never having to work again.
These examples vary a great deal from the cases mentioned in the Star article above which deals only with immigrant women who are illegally in Canada.