In late 2009, after the couple's second child was born and Ortega's first child had come to join her in Las Vegas, the mother of three came home one evening to find Tepoxtecatl drunk and full on the children's food. Ortega confronted Tepoxtecatl. According to Ortega, Tepoxtecatl threw her on the couch and started beating her. The couch broke, and she bit his hand to escape.
When the police came, Tepoxtecatl showed his bite wound, and the officers did not arrest him, Ortega said. They asked if she wanted to file charges, but she declined.
"I had no family, no one," she said. "I was scared. I didn't have papers, and I thought it would be a bad idea to press charges."
At that point the entire family was living off the $1,600 a month Ortega brought home as the supervisor at a cleaning company. When men called her home trying to organize an appointment, Tepoxtecatl would grow jealous and violent. His behavior, coupled with Ortega's added burden to carry all of the financial weight, she said, prevented her from learning English and making friends, much less assimilating into the community.
In the United States there are special visa programs for female victims of a crime and victims of a crime of any sex, but Ortega was completely oblivious of such options.
While the federal Secure Communities program checks the immigration status of those locked up by local law enforcement, it does not pertain to victims, witnesses or those who report a crime.
Still, those who work with domestic violence victims say programs such as Secure Communities have had a chilling effect on the immigrant community, making them reluctant to contact police.
Metro Police take more than 23,000 domestic violence reports each year, and several programs have been set up to encourage community members to report domestic violence and to help officers better handle the sensitive cases. Lt. Rob Lundquist, head of Metro's domestic violence detail, says the police's priority is keeping victims safe and they would never inquire to a victim or witness' immigration status. Metro Police have collaborated with the Southern Nevada Housing Authority on a domestic violence prevention program that included announcements in Spanish. Nevertheless, Lundquist says barriers remain between the police and immigrant community.
"When people come forward about a crime being committed, we are not concerned with their immigration status," he said. "We want to make people feel as safe as possible, and some great strides have been made in that area. We have dealt with people in the faith-based organizations, especially the Hispanic faith-based community."
Ortega is also deeply religious, attending regular services and frequently crediting God for helping her.
Yet, she was also given conflicting advice from faith leaders on what to do about the abuse she was suffering. A leader at a Christian church she attended told her the abuse was her "cross to bear."
"A lot of Hispanics especially are Catholic, and that contributes to their drive to stay in a relationship no matter what," said Samantha Jayme, director of outreach and education at S.A.F.E. House, another crisis-intervention agency. "They are taught that they are married before God, and the church recognizes marriage as forever. They feel like they are sinning if they leave their husband, but that is something we have worked on with faith-based leaders ... to get rid of that stigma."
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