Over 560 Organizations Call on DHS and ICE to Ensure Immigrant Survivors of Violence Can Access Safety and Protections

March 8, 2017

The Honorable John F. Kelly

Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Ave.

NW, Washington, D.C. 20016

 

The Honorable Thomas Homan

Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

500 12th St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20536

 

Dear Secretary Kelly and Acting Director Homan:

 

We, the undersigned 563 organizations who support, serve and/or advocate on behalf of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking, oppose the Administration’s executive orders on immigration and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) February 20, 2017 implementation memos, which fail to protect immigrant victims of crime, reduce the likelihood of immigrant victims or witnesses reporting crimes, empower traffickers and abusers, contravene existing protections afforded by law, and create unprecedented fear for immigrant families and communities.

Congress created the U and T visa programs in 2000, as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, to “strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking…and other crimes…committed against aliens, while offering protection to victims of such offenses in keeping with the humanitarian interests of the United States.”1 Congress also created the VAWA self-petition in 1994 recognizing that abusive spouses often use a victim’s immigration status as a tool of power and control. Furthermore, Congress also created important VAWA confidentiality provisions to prevent abusers from using the immigration system as a way to maintain power over survivors.2 The recent executive actions and DHS guidance seriously undermine critical protections created by VAWA to increase victim safety and encourage immigrant victims and witnesses of crime to cooperate with federal, state and local law enforcement to ensure public safety.

These executive orders and implementing memos send a dangerous message to immigrant communities, namely that reaching out for help will likely result in deportation. Human traffickers, perpetrators of sexual assault, including sexual abuse in the workplace, and domestic abusers prey on vulnerable immigrants, and often threaten their victims that seeking assistance from the police or courts will result in survivors’ deportation. There is no clearer example of this danger than the recent arrest of Ms. Gonzalez in the courthouse in El Paso immediately after she obtained a protection order against her abuser.3 When these threats are realized, they have a significant and widespread chilling 1 See section 1513(a)(2)(A), Public Law No: 106-386, 114 Stat. 1464. 2 See 8 USC 1367, INA 239(e). 3 Associated Press. “ Texas officials say ICE detained immigrant inside courthouse” Washington Post February 16, 2017 Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/texas-officials-say-ice-detained-immigrant-insidecourthouse/2017/02/16/4849b328-f4a6-11e6-9fb1-2d8f3fc9c0ed_story.html?utm_term=.9cdaa3aec333 2 effect and drive immigrant victims further into the shadows. The executive actions thereby empower criminals and undermine the ability of federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute these criminals.

Furthermore, the increased entanglement between local and state law enforcement authorities and immigration enforcement authorities called for in the executive orders and implementing guidance will exacerbate survivors’ and witnesses’ fears that calling or cooperating with the police may result in their removal or detention, and separation from their families. The orders undermine decades of community policing efforts to build relationships and trust with immigrant communities and revives programs that have been discredited, largely due to these concerns. Advocates around the country report that they are uncertain how to advise immigrant survivors about what will happen if they call the police or go to court. This undermines the Congressional findings in VAWA 2000 that all women and children who are victims of crimes [including domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking] “in the United States must be able to report these crimes to law enforcement and fully participate in the investigation of the crimes committed against them and the prosecution of the perpetrators of such crimes.” 4

In addition, refugees and those arriving at our borders who are fleeing or recovering from sexual and domestic violence, stalking or human trafficking, as well as individuals from the countries impacted by the refugee/travel ban, face increased barriers to their safety. The increased delays, explicit bans, and the possibility of being sent for processing to a contiguous country create uncertainty and the real danger of harm, jeopardize the ability of victims to access safety, and exacerbate the trauma they have experienced.

We call on DHS to recognize that immigrant communities deserve safety and justice. DHS must also clearly articulate to the public that anyone, regardless of immigration status, can access protection in our court systems; that they will follow and strengthen prior ICE guidance, procedures and programs that protect survivors; and that they will ensure ICE policies and procedures do not deter survivors from accessing critical protections, which only undermines public safety for all.

 

Read Full Letter Here