Speaking of Women's Rights: Fear as a Barrier: Why Immigrant Victims of Violence Can’t Access the Justice They Deserve

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fear as a Barrier: Why Immigrant Victims of Violence Can’t Access the Justice They Deserve

By Sara Ainsworth

In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, Legal Voice has teamed up with the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence to highlight the impact of anti-immigrant policies on immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The Northwest states are home to more than a million immigrants, many of whom are Asian American and Pacific Islander. Advocates from API communities – a diverse group facing diverse disparities – have led the way in promoting state and federal policies to make it safer for immigrant survivors of abuse to report the abuse against them and seek the protection of the courts.

But new federal anti-immigration policies – including raids, increased arrests, and targeting immigrants with no criminal history – threaten to undo decades of work to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault go to the police for help when they are in danger.

A nationwide survey of legal programs and domestic violence agencies, published last month, found that fears of reporting to the police were up a shocking 78% among immigrant survivors of domestic violence. Today NPR reported on this survey in a story about Latino immigrants in Texas fearing deportation if they reported crimes. As the NPR story noted, these fears are particularly harmful to victims of gender-based violence; in Houston, for example, sexual assault reporting by Latina immigrants is down 43% from last year. In a related report, a Denver prosecutor described having to drop four domestic violence prosecutions after the travel ban was signed in January – all four victims were immigrants who feared they would be taken by immigration authorities at the courthouse if they testified against their abusers.

Punishing immigrant victims for coming forward means violent abusers can continue to threaten, harm, and intimidate their victims. It creates a two-tiered system of justice, where only some of our communities are protected.

How you can help:
  • Call your city council members, wherever you are, and demand that law enforcement and other public officials not inquire about immigration status. 
    • Here's a script: "Victims of violence should not have to fear being deported or separated from their families when seeking help and justice. But countless immigrant survivors are living in fear of just that. When local police collaborate with immigration enforcement, victims are discouraged from seeking safety and cooperating with the criminal legal system. Please pass policies barring local officials from inquiring about victims and witnesses’ immigration status.”
  • Contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and demand that they stay away from courthouses
  • Support the organizations that are moving this critical work forward: 

Photo courtesy of Janko Ferlic | Unsplash