This is essay is part of the OOPS course Law and Sexuality.
A 2015 study by the ACLU on Domestic Violence (DV) and policing found that nationwide 88% of respondents reported that police sometimes or often do not believe victims or blame victims for the violence. This relationship of mistrust between police and abused women is especially salient amongst minority women and has manifested in many ways. Stories of women not reporting DV have always existed due to the lack of cooperation from law enforcement in combination with the invasive nature of the system. Most recently, undocumented immigrant women reporting DV has dropped drastically due to the fear of being deported. With a lack of accountability from law enforcement and a general distrust from women, a system meant to protect is causing more violence. This has placed minority women in a position of further marginalization and eliminated a group of immigrant women from being protected.
Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping The Margins:Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and violence Against Women of Color” sets out to explain the relationship between race, gender, and domestic violence through an intersectional lens. A major theme in her text is subordination of immigrant women through the legislature. Immigrant women have had a history of being legislatively marginalized through immigration acts and provisions. This has a powerful negative effect on women who choose to stay in abusive relationships because they feel they have no other options. Crenshaw notes that the Immigration and Nationality Act had provisions that prevented women from leaving abusive relationships due to a fear of being deported if they left the relationship before the 2 year period before naturalization. Provisions were made to address this problem and help women remain on a path to citizenship and remain protected from their abuser. Unfortunately, these provisions required a waiver to prove the abuse that could only be acquired through resources that, realistically, most poor immigrant women do not have access to.
Access to resources and information plays an even more pivotal role in regards to awareness. More affluent and predominantly white women who have access to education and resources on issues of DV are more likely to get help. Immigrant women rely heavily on their husbands for access to this information. Crenshaw also explains how much more likely immigrant women are to be dependent on their spouses in regards to legal information. Language barriers limit access to information that can help these women escape their abusive situations and leave them to rely more and more on their abuser. Crenshaw explores a common narrative amongst immigrant households. In certain cases, naturalized or not, husbands have been able to oppress their wives by threatening them that if they report the abuse they risk their whole family getting deported. When liberties, family, and general safety are at risk, these women are held back to seek out the proper protection even if they had access to the resources. These psychological traumas and barriers ultimately rid any legislative initiative of impact.
Currently, the fear of deportation amongst immigrant DV victims has been brought to national attention. With the Trump administration’s “tough on immigration” stance, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been weighing heavily on victim’s decision. A sense of fear and anxiety has hindered victims who do have knowledge and access to the legal system from taking full advantage of it.
In a piece from NPR’s Morning Edition, journalist Heidi Glenn reports on the increasing fear and decrease of DV reports due to ICE’s presence in Denver, Colorado. Denver City attorney Kristen Bronson expressed her concerns for victims and the direct correlation between the immigration crisis and prosecution. Bronson revealed that many cases pending prosecution were asked to be dropped by victims due to a fear of being deported at the courthouse. This fear stems from a video released that showed ICE agents waiting outside the Denver Courthouse. Systems that were built to protect are now even more dangerous by breaking the trust between victims and state institutions put in place to protect them.
This distrust in the system has not only caused harm to victims, but it has also hurt Trump’s initiative to remove violent illegal aliens from communities. “Without victims willing to testify we’ve had to dismiss those charges and the violent offenders have seen no consequences for their violent acts,” Bronson explained. Trump developed the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) in order to target violent criminals and protect the country from immigrants who pose a this threat. Protecting immigrant women who report DV is a major step towards protecting the country from violent criminals. Trump has made it clear that he is trying to rally up and deport the “Bad Hombres.” This racialized targeting of Latinx communities has ultimately created a distrust from the whole community with legal systems. In reality, the ability of immigrant women to bring attention and assist in the prosecution of violent immigrant men could actually benefit the VOICE program. If women were able to relieve their fears of putting themselves and their families in a position of being deported, they could possibly work alongside authorities to help the main goal of the “tough on immigration” policies. Unfortunately, the fear and reality of deportation has driven a wedge between justice and protection, and has ultimately alienated immigrant women from both those liberties.
When we think about why minority women are completely isolated from the protections allocated by the state and law enforcement, it is imperative to remember that DV is not just a simple matter of having access to report crimes. DV victims also face psychological barriers that prevent all victims (minority, majority, naturalized, or immigrant) from even reaching a stage to seek protection from the law. Still, the narratives from our government and the imagery of law enforcement has made it almost impossible for marginalized groups of DV to fathom a way out of their situation. Overall, the current rhetoric surrounding immigration has created confusion which has led to a fear that incapacitated victims. It is imperative to include this current epidemic in debates on immigration as well as information on DV, in order to bring attention to a community that is not able to fully access protective services they have legislative rights to.