Domestic Abusers May Go Free Due to Immigration Crackdown, Experts Warn
The Trump administration’s obvious distaste for immigrants — both documented and undocumented — has many Americans concerned, anxious, and outraged. While the United States Congress’ Immigration Act of 1990 created several avenues for legal immigration, including the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, there are still plenty of people who are unable to come to this country through those channels. And yet, they still want to make a better life for themselves and for their families here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But unfortunately, coming to America does not alleviate all problems. Domestic abuse, for example, can happen anywhere. And now, due to immigration crackdowns, many victims of abuse situations are refusing to testify in court against their abusers for fear that they’ll be deported.
Although 95-96% of personal injury cases are settled pretrial, many domestic abuse cases are played out in a court of law in criminal trials (rather than as civil suits). Having to testify in court against one’s abuser is traumatizing enough, but the reality is that if victims have come to the United States illegally, there’s a very real possibility that they could be taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to what experts explained to NBC News, the current administration’s focus on immigration has served as a real deterrent for women in domestic abuse situations. If they are in this country illegally, their decision to testify in court could result in their own deportation and an uncertain future for their children. Potentially, they could receive a stricter punishment than their alleged abuser; if their abuser is a U.S. citizen or is here legally, it’s possible that they could avoid harsh consequences while the accuser is forced to leave their entire life in the U.S. behind.
One Denver attorney, Kristin Bronson, told NBC that she’s had to drop 30 domestic violence cases since President Trump’s inauguration due to the fact these victims were afraid of being apprehended by immigration officials if they were to testify in court.
“It means that abusers are going without consequences,” Bronson explained. “It means that abusers are beginning to feel that they are immune from prosecution, and it’s become, unfortunately, a tool to further victimize women who are the victims of domestic violence.”
Currently, ICE officials are not allowed to make arrests at schools, hospitals, or houses of worship without explicit permission. But courthouses are not included in that list of protected places, though some law enforcement officials want to change that. In fact, three district attorneys in New York have explicitly requested that ICE stop making courthouse arrests.
Still, ICE stands by their practices. In an interview with NBC News, ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence said:
“We have compassion to all victims of crimes that are here illegally. We have compassion toward victims of crimes that are United States citizens that have crimes committed against them by illegal aliens. That said, we have a job to do… This whole notion that, you know, us arresting people at the courthouse is going to interfere with victims or witnesses — it’s not. We are there targeting individuals who we know are here in the country illegally, have been charged or committed or convicted of a criminal violation, and we are taking enforcement action against those individuals.”
But that’s not entirely accurate, maintains Lisa Diefenderfer, an attorney with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.
“In every case that I have where the abuser is documented and the victim is undocumented, immigration status is always used as a method of control,” Diefenderfer told NBC News. “Whether it’s a threat, whether it’s a promise, it is used as a means of control to keep a victim in fear, to keep them from reporting, to keep them from leaving, to keep them from seeking justice.”
Tragically, it’s not only domestic abuse victims whose fears of deportation are controlling their available options. According to a CommonDreams.org report, more than 40 immigrants have already been arrested by ICE after they came forward to retrieve unaccompanied relatives. And the detention centers being used for unaccompanied children who crossed the border are at their maximum capacity due to the fact that their family members are afraid of being arrested themselves.
After a Supreme Judicial Court decision to uphold ICE’s rights to make courthouse arrests was made in Massachusetts, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal — the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice — told the Boston Globe: “Our clients… remain open to unfettered intimidation, harassment, and detention by federal immigration officials. The courthouse doors remain effectively closed to immigrants.”