Published in partnership with the Heartland Alliance.
See all our coverage of the 2012 VAWA Reauthorization here.
My name is Erika. I came to the United States with my parents when I was six years old and I have been here ever since.
I have lived in fear for most of my life because of my ex-husband. We met as high school freshmen in Chicago. Our relationship was rocky from the beginning and he became more controlling and possessive over the years. But when he joined the Marines after high school, things seemed to change for a while. He apologized for the way he acted and promised to treat me with respect.
After we got married, he became worse than ever. He came home drunk and assaulted me. He would lock me in the house all day when he was at work, even though I was caring for our infant son. When he would come home, he would bring many friends and drink all night. When I told him he needed to stop drinking or I would leave, he shoved me against a wall and swung to punch me. I ducked, so he hit wall instead. When he was deployed to Iraq, he was supposed to put money into a bank account for our family, but he put most of his money in a separate account and left me without access to it. Even though he was making money, because I was undocumented, I was unable to earn money to feed my children and I had to ask my parents to buy us food. After he returned from Iraq, he began having relationships with other women, sometimes in front of me. Eventually, I reached out for help and I left.
I would have lived in fear my whole life without protection under the Violence Against Women Act. I now have lawful status and a job as an office manager. I can do anything now. I am not afraid that my ex-husband will take my children away from me or have me deported, as he threatened to do before. I have high hopes for the future. I want to go back to school to study culinary arts, and because of VAWA, I can reach for that goal.
But my ex-husband would have done anything in his power to prevent me from getting legal status. He would have lied and denied that he was abusing me. Even as I was going through the application process, he threatened to kill me. If he found out about my VAWA application, I truly believe that he would have acted on his threats. The proposed VAWA bill, which requires immigration officials to interview the abusers, is dangerous. The government cannot let abusers continue to have control. The government is supposed to protect victims. VAWA saved my life, and I hope it is left as it is now so it can continue to save other women in dangerous situations.