Leaving an abusive relationship is never simple or easy. Abusers typically have physical, psychological and, often, material control over their victims, which makes it extremely difficult for those being abused to remove themselves from dangerous and violent relationships. Adding the risk of detention and deportation to the already staggering list of roadblocks facing abuse victims is terrifying. Sadly, it is also the new reality for many immigrants across the country. The wave of deportations and the current administration’s unwavering focus on dehumanizing immigration policies are endangering the lives of undocumented victims of domestic abuse by forcing them to continue living under violent conditions.
A Slate story on the subject shares several harrowing personal accounts of women remaining in dangerous and abusive situations for fear of deportation and due to the possibility of losing custody over their children to their abusive partners. These include the story of a Texas transgender woman – Irvin Gonzalez – who was detained by ICE last month based on, what she believes, was a tip from her abusive ex-partner. Her detention happened in front of an El Paso courthouse where she went to obtain a protective order against her ex. Due to several prior convictions on her record, she now faces up to 10 years in prison. Earlier this week, NPR reported that four women in Denver dropped their domestic abuse charges after seeing a video of immigration officers waiting in front of a Denver courthouse.
The renewed collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities is also turning into a powerful deterrent against victims reaching out for help. To make matters worse, ambiguous language in the immigration implementation memos released by DHS last month cast doubt that protections granted to undocumented domestic abuse victims by the Violence Against Women Act will continue to be honored by immigration officials. Advocates fear that this renewed legal ambiguity, coupled with the very unambiguous arrests of abuse victims such as Irvin Gonzales, are powerful tools in the hands of abusers, who now have yet another way of intimidating their victims into staying with them.
So it seems the crackdown on immigration is hugely helpful to at least one social group – domestic abusers. Should we mark that as a social policy win?