11 May Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence Having to Choose to Stay in the Shadows

By Taylor Loynd

Fear in immigrant communities has spread across the country in recent months. With changes in immigration policy and the ramp up of enforcement, immigrants face increased concerns about their future in this country. The situation is even more severe for immigrant survivors of domestic violence.

Abused immigrants already face heightened concerns about the consequences of reporting their abuser. The vast majority of abusers use their victim’s immigration status as a way to control them, especially if the abuser has legal status.

Stories of ICE agents in Texas courthouses have undoubtedly contributed to the current climate of fear. In particular, the story that spread across the country in February of ICE officers waiting inside an El Paso County Courthouse to detain a  transgender woman who had just received a protective order against her abuser has had a significant chilling effect on future reports of domestic violence. This incident is particularly concerning given the challenges the transgender community already faces with police interactions.

In fact, there have already been documented cases in Travis County where victims have decided not to continue cooperation with law enforcement over fears of deportation. Additionally, some Texas victims’ services organizations have already started to see a decrease in the number of people seeking their services. For instance, El Paso County attorney’s office has seen a 12% decrease in the number of people seeking protective orders since the news of the woman’s arrest in their courthouse.

This phenomenon is not limited to Texas. Four women in Colorado have decided not to continue cooperation with law enforcement officials after witnessing a video of ICE officers at a Denver courthouse waiting to detain an immigrant. The charges against their abusers have been dismissed as a result.

While immigration status does not legally impact the ability of a victim to receive a protective order, hearing about ICE detentions in courthouses cannot but work to prevent victims from getting away from their abusers.

As a result, many victims face an impossible choice, especially if they have children. If victims go to the courthouse to seek a protective order, not only do they take the risk of encountering ICE agents there, but they also risk leaving their children with their abuser.

Under immigration law, a person can seek immigration status for his or her spouse through a family petition, but in these abusive relationships, the abuser refuses to do so, leaving the victim with no option but a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). However, immigrant survivors are potentially missing out on the immigration relief afforded to them under VAWA and through U or T Visas. These forms of immigration relief were created to provide protection to immigrant victims of crime. However, the recent drop in reporting and lack of trust in the system undermines their purpose. An immigrant survivor only benefits from these forms of relief when he or she is able to report the crime, something many immigrant victims now feel unable to do.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has been providing free immigration services to immigrant survivors of abuse in underserved parts of Texas for 13 years through our immigrant victims services program. On September 1, 2017 part of the program will be graduating from TCRP to become Lone Star Victims Advocacy Project (LSVAP). TCRP and LSVAP will continue to work in this climate of fear to empower immigrant victims of domestic violence in Texas.

Taylor Loynd is a law clerk at the Texas Civil Rights Project.