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Survey Results Show Increased Fear of Reporting for Immigrant Victims and Survivors

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

The 2017 survey reveals the impact increased immigration enforcement has had on victims experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.

Seven national organizations that work to end domestic violence and sexual assault released the results of the 2017 Advocate and Legal Service Survey Regarding Immigrant Survivors on May 18, 2017.

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 Tahirih Justice Center recognized an urgency, based on reports from their constituencies, to collect data and identify trends that signal increased fear and reluctance from immigrant survivors to seek assistance from law enforcement or the courts, and uncertainty on the part of advocates on how to advise immigrant survivors.

“Laws and policies that deter immigrant victims from calling 911 create an impossible choice for them: They must either stay with their abusers or risk deportation,” said Archi Pyati, Chief of Policy and Programs at the Tahirih Justice Center. “We cannot turn a blind eye to this. These policies make us all less safe.”

A total of 715 victim advocates and attorneys in 46 states and the District of Columbia completed the survey and reported how changing immigration policies affects the concerns of service providers and immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The survey documents that 78 percent of advocates reported that immigrant survivors expressed concerns about contacting police. Similarly, three in four service providers responding to the survey reported that immigrant survivors have concerns about going to court for a matter related to the abuser/offender. Finally, 43 percent of advocates worked with immigrant survivors who dropped civil or criminal cases because they were fearful to continue with their cases.

Current policies regarding immigration enforcement efforts, such as executive orders that cast a much wider net of who is considered a priority for immigration enforcement and calls for increased involvement of local and state law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement efforts, have had an impact on immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and local service providers.

“Service providers are trying to help immigrant survivors navigate a lot of uncertainty, and assessing whether there is any risk to them for reaching out for protection,” said Cecelia Friedman Levin, Senior Policy Counsel at ASISTA, a national leader on immigration remedies for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“Compelling increased entanglement between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement will erode community policing efforts, undermine access to safety and justice for immigrant victims and their children, and undermine public safety,” said Rosie Hidalgo, Director of Public Policy for Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network.

The survey findings also revealed that 62 percent of respondents observed an increase in the number of immigration-related questions that their agencies were receiving from immigrant survivors.

“Escaping domestic violence is already difficult for immigrant survivors,” said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of NNEDV. “The current environment makes it even more frightening for victims to come forward and seek help.”

“Like many of the organizations represented in the survey, we have consistently noticed that immigrant victims and survivors who’ve contacted us are hesitant to report abuse because of a heightened fear of deportation due to their immigration status,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of NDVH. “Relatives, friends, and neighbors of immigrant abuse victims who might have reported abuse in the past have also shared that they are now wary of doing so for fear that they might be targeted for deportation.”

Congress created important protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in the express recognition that perpetrators often exploit a victim’s lack of immigration status as a tactic of abuse. The U and T visa program in the 2000 reauthorization of VAWA was created to “strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking … and other crimes created against aliens, while offering protection to victims of such offenses in keeping with the humanitarian interests of the United States.”

“Our organizations are calling on federal government, Congressional leaders, state and local authorities, and law enforcement to reinforce the intent of VAWA and the TVPA and demonstrate their support for immigrant survivors by helping create an environment that does not leave them in the shadows,” said Grace Huang, Policy Director of APIGBV. “Current proposals that undermine community policing and intensify deportation practices put the most vulnerable victims at risk.”

“We urge officials to share our vision of ending domestic and sexual violence,” said Monika Johnson Hostler, President of NAESV. “To do so authorities must demonstrate their support for immigrant survivors of these crimes.”

Read the Survey Key Findings report to learn more about the results of the 2017 Advocate and Legal Service Survey Regarding Immigrant Survivors.

Written by Monica McLaughlin, Deputy Director of Public Policy, National Network to End Domestic Violence and Rebekah Stewart, Program Communications Associate, Tahirih Justice Center.

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