Haley Goldberg reports in Self:
Over the past several months, counselors at Laura’s House domestic violence agency in Orange County, California, have seen fewer and fewer undocumented immigrants coming in to report abuse. The agency’s legal director, Adam Dodge, does not see this as a good sign. He says undocumented domestic violence victims are facing a heightened fear that if they speak out against an abuser or take legal action, they could get deported—so they’re keeping quiet.
The trend started in February, when Dodge says the agency saw a dramatic change among the roughly 80 people who come in over the course of a typical month. “We went from 40 to 45 percent of our clients being undocumented—helping them get restraining orders for themselves and their children—to nearly zero,” he tells SELF.
Dodge says Laura’s House—which provides vital services like emergency shelter, counseling, and legal aid to survivors of domestic violence—first noticed a decrease in undocumented immigrant clients after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained an undocumented domestic violence survivor on Feb. 9, in El Paso, Texas, when she was in court filing a protective order against her alleged abuser. “That just spread like wildfire through the undocumented community across the United States and created this chilling effect where no one’s going in to seek restraining orders,” Dodge says. “People are just so scared of having their name in any system. We can’t tell them with any certainty that they won’t get picked up by ICE if they come to court.”
In the first few months following the El Paso incident, he says only one openly undocumented survivor came to their agency. Her situation was grave. “She thought she was going to die if she stayed in the relationship,” Dodge says. “She said she was willing to risk deportation to get a restraining order.” Now, the agency has seen a slight increase to one or two undocumented clients each week—but it’s still well below the norm. “The situation is still very dire,” he says.
El Paso was an early and powerful example of how ramped up ICE activity, spurred by President Trump’s aggressive and expansive new rules on immigration, can have a devastating impact on immigrants living in the U.S. without documentation. In February, the President issued new immigration policies, calling for the deportation of illegal immigrants even if they haven’t been formally convicted of a crime and an increase in ICE resources. In March, a video surfaced showing ICE officers poised to make an arrest at a Denver courthouse, a place where victims of domestic violence also appear when their cases go to court. NPR reported that after the video came out, four women dropped domestic violence cases in Denver, fearing they’d be spotted at the courthouse and deported.
When incidents like these happen, experts say the news—and fear of deportation—spreads, affecting how many survivors come forward. At the end of March, reports of sexual assault in Los Angeles had dropped 25 percent among the Latino population and reports of domestic violence had fallen 10 percent among the community compared to the previous year. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said similar decreases in reports weren’t seen in any other ethnic groups, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells SELF the perception of how survivors are treated matters—and it can affect how undocumented immigrants proceed if they find themselves in an abusive situation. “If you have a case and you’re thinking about going forward, and then this environment that we’re in right now does not seem supportive, then you’re not going to follow through,” Glenn says. “It’s very disturbing.”
Critics of the administration’s treatment of undocumented survivors sounded an alarm in May, when it was discovered that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new Victim Information and Notification Exchange—an online database created to track when criminals are released from or into ICE custody—publicly listed the names and detainment location of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking who’ve applied to stay legally in the U.S. on special protective visas. DHS is prohibited from releasing identifying information about immigrants seeking these protections because of the dangers it poses to them. The Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that serves immigrant women and girls, first contacted the DHS about the issue on May 12. As of the May 25, the organization said the names of abuse victims were still searchable in the database. In response to the uproar, an ICE spokesman told BuzzFeed News they were working to “correct” and “prevent” any non-releasable information disclosed on the site.”
Read the complete story at the link.
While the Trump Administration has turned the VOICE Program for victims of crime committed by undocumented aliens into a big showpiece, they have basically declared an “open season” on undocumented victims of crime. Years of hard work by local police and social agencies to get the undocumented community its to report crimes, help in solving them, and seek appropriate victim assistance are going down the drain. And, I suspect that once lost, that trust will be difficult, if not impossible to regain.
At the same time, by discouraging individuals from reporting crime, I suppose the Administration can achieve fake “reduction in crime” stats resulting from its enforcement efforts.