Oregon Woman in Hiding to Protect Daughter from Mutilation

by Libby Zoars, NOW Intern

Imagine feeling that the only way you could keep your child safe from abuse or mutilation was to go into hiding, not allowing your friends, family, or lawyer to know where you and your daughter are. This is how domestic violence and female genital mutilation have touched Eunice DeShields, born in Nigeria and now divorced from an abusive husband in the United States.

 DeShields is in hiding with her daughter, and even her lawyer, Alexa Forte of Portland, Ore., does not know where she is. A January 1994 ruling ordered DeShields deportation. Her appeal to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to introduce evidence of battering and abuse by her ex-husband is still pending.

 Forte describes her client's history of abuse. Eunice DeShields married Milton DeShields in September 1988 after entering the United States the previous March. Their daughter Princess was born in September 1990. DeShields had to file several restraining orders against her husband due to his violent behavior toward her. She would not allow her husband to visit their daughter without supervision for fear that he would kidnap or abuse her.

 DeShields is not able to count on returning to the support of her family in Nigeria because of the threat that her family would force her daughter to undergo female genital mutilation. DeShields herself underwent the procedure when she was pregnant at the age of 18 at the insistence of her family, and it was an extremely traumatizing experience, leading to complications with her pregnancy. She will not allow it to happen to her daughter. The alternative is to leave her daughter with her abusive father or place her in foster care, which DeShields is not prepared to allow to happen either.

 Under the battered immigrant women provision of the new Violence Against Women Act, DeShields may be able to receive a suspension of deportation since she has resided in the United States for more than three years, according to Roberta Valente, a lawyer working on the American Bar Association's Task Force on Domestic Violence. Since her first application for residency was made by her husband, this would be her first application made by herself. However, it remains to be seen how the Act will be interpreted as it goes into effect, and how it may affect DeShields' case.

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