Gender Inequality

It’s a terrifying time to be an undocumented woman in America

Several advocacy groups, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, offer statistics, resources, and support to domestic abuse victims and survivors. According to the NCADV, about 20,000 phone calls are made daily to domestic violence hotlines, and approximately 10 million people per year are physically abused by a partner. These staggering numbers are further proof that we must continue to champion harsher punishments for abusers, advocate stricter gun control, and take an active role in listening to victims and addressing their needs.

In the past year, America has seen a decrease in domestic violence reports from Latinas, but the reasons why are not encouraging. Experts believe that the ever-looming threat of deportation has kept many immigrants – particularly undocumented – from coming forward to report their abusive situations to authorities.

This is not an unfounded concern in the slightest.

President Trump has voiced, over and over, his plans of deporting the “bad hombres,” ending DACA and booting DREAMers from the States, and building a wall that American taxpayers will most definitely end up footing the bill for. Cities around the country have experienced drastic increases in hate crimes against people of color and Trump has refused to rebuke or take any type of disciplinary action against violent white nationalists.

It’s a horrifying time to be an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. For undocumented immigrants who are the targets of domestic violence, it’s even scarier.

Time reported that in a recent survey of over 700 legal professionals and advocates, 62 percent have seen an increase of questions about immigration and deportation from domestic violence survivors. Social workers and lawyers alike have given accounts of female undocumented immigrants who refuse to turn in their abusers, citing concerns about deportation, jail, and being separated from their children.

They worry that interacting with the police will lead to being investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even filling out the proper paperwork needed for restraining orders at courthouses poses a threat because ICE is not barred from entering courthouses and arresting undocumented individuals. A potential arrest in the very building that is supposed to deliver justice and protection is enough to silence many women.

As a result, abusers continue to harm, threaten, and kill undocumented women almost unchecked.

The Trump administration and the general anti-immigrant political climate in America have stripped some of the last shreds of power from an already highly vulnerable, exploitable community. Domestic violence victims, much like sexual assault victims, are oftentimes not taken seriously or not given adequate protection from their abusive partners.

The legal system can be overwhelming and difficult for women who are U.S. citizens with full rights; it is absolutely harrowing for undocumented women because of the anxiety of deportation and breaking up of families that comes with entering law-enforcement spaces.

We must continue to raise awareness about domestic violence by holding perpetrators accountable and making sure victims feel (and are) safe when reporting incidents to the police, obtaining lawyers, calling hotlines, working with advocates, and living with their families. But we have to go farther and dispel the myth that domestic violence looks the same on every woman, in every community.

We have to remember there are many women who do not have a voice and feel powerless to seek help because of their immigration status.

We must fight for those women who are pushed to the margins, and thereby into silence because the fear of deportation is stronger than their faith in a justice system that has historically shown them little kindness.