Immigrants account for a disturbingly high share of domestic violence deaths in Massachusetts, advocates say, raising fears that the nation’s heated immigration debate is deterring abuse victims from seeking help.
In Framingham last week, an undocumented immigrant whose husband had beaten her for two days called a hot line in tears, saying she was too afraid to call police. In Boston’s Chinatown, women fear becoming burdens to relatives back home if they leave their husbands.
In some cases, the fallout affects families far from Massachusetts. In hurricane-ravaged Haiti, relatives of Norma Dorce Gilles are struggling to survive without her frequent care packages of spaghetti, peanut butter, and $400 in cash. Gilles, a Malden beautician, was smothered and dumped in the trunk of her car in February, allegedly by her former boyfriend, Lesly Cheremond, an illegal immigrant who had been ordered deported and is now awaiting trial in the killing. He has pleaded not guilty.
“We need to shore up services or this will continue,” said Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., a statewide coalition of sexual assault and domestic violence programs. “What we are afraid of is the deeper isolation felt by immigrant victims. That is the danger point.”
Immigrants make up an estimated 14 percent of the state’s population, but accounted for 26 percent of the 180 domestic violence deaths in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2006, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Public Health. Nearly all of the 47 victims were women and children.