New research from a coalition of seven national organizations leading the fight for gender and racial justice paints a stark picture of the experiences of immigrant survivors in the current political moment—one marred by the Trump administration’s appalling anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
Nearly 600 advocates and attorneys for immigrants from across the country participated in the study by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (APIGBV), ASISTA, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and the Tahirih Justice Center.
Most shared stories of immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence living in a state of heightened fear—of deportation, retaliation by their abusers and separation from their children—that stops them from seeking help or justice.
“It is deeply alarming that so many immigrant survivors suffer fear of deportation in addition to the trauma of sexual violence,” Terri Poore, policy director at one organization that worked on the study, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said in a statement. “If we are serious about addressing the epidemic of sexual violence in our country, we must create safe avenues for immigrant survivors to come forward and receive help.”
Three out of four of the advocates surveyed for the study noted that survivors are concerned about appearing in court, and 76.25 percent said they had noticed an increase in “concerns about contacting police” among domestic violence victims. Over half reported working with survivors who ultimately dropped charges out of fear.
“This trend is consistent with what advocates at The Hotline have been hearing on the lines over the past several years,” National Domestic Violence Hotline Policy Director Qudsia Raja said in a statement. “We have serious concerns that reasonable fears of detention, deportation, or family separation is causing immigrant survivors to stay in increasingly dangerous relationships.”
ASISTA Senior Policy Council Cecelia Friedman Levin explained in the same statement how that impacts all survivors. “When survivors fear that reaching out to services and institutions like the courts will lead to their deportation or separation from their families,” Levin declared, “this weakens public safety and existing laws designed for their protection, while at the same time strengthens the threats of abusers and perpetrators of crimes.”
Such fear is intensified amongst mothers who experienced domestic violence against themselves or their children, as they refuse to risk having their children taken away or deported for the sake of carrying out a case in court.
One anonymous advocate who participated in the survey confirmed that “the biggest concern women clients have is being separated from their children.” Another explained that “immigrant survivors also fear that the judge or police may look at them as criminals, and not capable of supporting their kids, just because they lack a legal status.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, all domestic violence survivors maintain the right to protection and legal separation, regardless of citizenship status, and legal protections do exist for immigrant survivors of domestic violence in laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. But immigrant women remain particularly vulnerable to sexual and relationship violence after crossing the border, and abusers often leverage the legal status of immigrant women in order to isolate and intimidate them.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda only makes the cycle of abuse even harder for migrant women to escape.
“Established federal law has been lifesaving for survivors of violence. It is vital that these protections remain available to ensure that survivors can flee and rebuild their lives,” Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said in the statement. “Nevertheless, no matter how many supposed freedoms and means of assistance the government claims to provide, migrant women will still be limited by their fears and vulnerability as non-citizens, at least until the administration stops pushing threatening, anti-immigrant rhetoric as a part of its official political agenda, as well as in ground-level legislation and resource-allocation.”