Too scared to reach for help

Abuse vic­tims stay silent over fears of de­por­ta­tion, fu­elled by mis­in­for­ma­tion and de­spair.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Woman - By JAMES QUEALLY

THE woman on the other end of the line said her hus­band had been beat­ing her for years, even while she was preg­nant.

She was in dan­ger and wanted help, but was in the coun­try il­le­gally and was con­vinced she would be de­ported if she called au­thor­i­ties. Fear­ful her hus­band would gain cus­tody of her chil­dren, she wanted noth­ing to do with the le­gal sys­tem.

It is a story that Jo­ce­lyn Maya, pro­gramme su­per­vi­sor at the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ter Su Casa in Long Beach, United States, has heard of­ten this year.

In the first six months of 2017, re­ports of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence de­clined among Latino res­i­dents in some of Cal­i­for­nia’s largest cities, a re­treat that cri­sis pro­fes­sion­als say is driven by a fear that in­ter­act­ing with po­lice or en­ter­ing a court­house could make im­mi­grants easy tar­gets for de­por­ta­tion.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ag­gres­sive stance on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, ex­ec­u­tive or­ders greatly ex­pand­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who can be tar­geted for de­por­ta­tion and news re­ports of US Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) agents mak­ing ar­rests at court­houses have con­trib­uted to the down­turn, ac­cord­ing to civil lib­er­ties and im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates.

In Los An­ge­les, Lati­nos re­ported 3.5% fewer in­stances of spousal abuse in the first six months of the year com­pared with 2016, while re­port­ing among non-Latino vic­tims was vir­tu­ally un­changed, records show. That pat­tern ex­tends be­yond Los An­ge­les to cities such as San Fran­cisco and San Diego, which recorded even steeper de­clines of 18% and 13%, re­spec­tively. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is tra­di­tion­ally an un­der-re­ported crime. Some po­lice of­fi­cials and ad­vo­cates now say im­mi­grants with­out le­gal sta­tus also may be­come tar­gets for other crimes be­cause of their re­luc­tance to con­tact law en­force­ment.

The Long Beach abuse vic­tim, fear­ing she had no other re­course, sent her old­est chil­dren back to Mex­ico to live with rel­a­tives.

“We’re sup­posed to be that as­sur­ance that they don’t have. That safety net,” Maya said. “But it’s get­ting harder for us to have a pos­i­tive word for them and say: ‘It’s go­ing to be OK. You can go into a court­room. You can call the po­lice.’”

LA County Sher­iff’s Deputy Marino Gon­za­lez said he ad­dresses such ap­pre­hen­sion fre­quently in East LA, even though his depart­ment doesn’t ques­tion peo­ple about their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

“They’re afraid of us. And the rea­son they’re afraid of us is be­cause they think we’re go­ing to de­port them. They don’t know that we don’t de­port them; we don’t ask for their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus,” he said. “They just gotta go based on what they see on so­cial me­dia and what they hear from other peo­ple.”

On a warm af­ter­noon, Gon­za­lez pulled his cruiser to a stop near a row of apart­ments in Cu­dahy, ahead of a com­mu­nity meet­ing in a pre­dom­i­nantly Span­ish-speak­ing neigh­bor­hood.

The mood in the city was tense. The night be­fore, a pro-Trump de­mon­stra­tor protest­ing the city’s “sanc­tu­ary” sta­tus had been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of bran­dish­ing a gun. Gon­za­lez and city of­fi­cials went door-to-door, flash­ing smiles and speak­ing Span­ish to res­i­dents, urg­ing them to at­tend the meet­ing.

Gon­za­lez spoke calmly to the as­sem­bly of sev­eral dozen peo­ple sip­ping from Sty­ro­foam cups.

“We’re not here to ask you where you’re from,” he said in Span­ish, draw­ing thank­ful nods.

Gon­za­lez, who came to the US from Mex­ico as a child, said he knows why peo­ple are scared, but hopes face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions will per­suade more vic­tims to come for­ward.

“The com­mu­nity here, they don’t know, and they won’t know, un­less we reach out,” he said.

ICE of­fi­cials also said they do not tar­get crime vic­tims for de­por­ta­tion and, in fact, of­ten ex­tend visas to those who re­port vi­o­lent crime and sex­ual abuse.

Of­fi­cials in the agency’s Los An­ge­les of­fice de­clined to be in­ter­viewed. ICE is­sued a state­ment dis­miss­ing links be­tween im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment and a de­cline in crime re­port­ing among im­mi­grants as “spec­u­la­tive and ir­re­spon­si­ble”.

The drop in re­port­ing could re­sult from an over­all de­crease in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence crimes, the agency said. But po­lice statis­tics re­viewed by the Los An­ge­les Times sug­gest that state­ment is in­ac­cu­rate. The de­cline in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­ports among Lati­nos in sev­eral cities is far steeper than over­all de­clines in re­port­ing of those crimes.

In Los An­ge­les and San Diego, re­port­ing of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence crimes re­mained un­changed among non-Lati­nos. The de­cline among Lati­nos in San Diego was more than dou­ble the over­all city­wide de­crease, records show. In San Fran­cisco, the re­port­ing de­cline among Lati­nos was nearly triple the city­wide de­crease. The pat­tern ex­tends out­side Cal­i­for­nia.

In April, Hous­ton po­lice Chief Art Acevedo said the num­ber of Latino vic­tims re­port­ing sex­ual as­sault had dropped 42% in his city. In Den­ver, at least nine women aban­doned pur­suit of re­strain­ing or­ders against their abusers af­ter im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment agents were filmed mak­ing an ar­rest in a city court­house this year, City At­tor­ney Kristi Bron­son said.

Claude Arnold, who over­saw ICE op­er­a­tions in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia from 2010 to 2015, said mis­con­cep­tions about the agency may be driv­ing the downswing. Crime vic­tims are far more likely to re­ceive a visa ap­pli­ca­tion than a re­moval or­der by re­port­ing an at­tack, he said.

“ICE still has a pol­icy that we don’t pur­sue re­moval pro­ceed­ings against vic­tims or wit­nesses of crime, and I haven’t seen any doc­u­mented in­stances where that ac­tu­ally hap­pened,” he said. “To a great de­gree, we fa­cil­i­tate those peo­ple hav­ing le­gal sta­tus in the U.S.”

Na­tion­wide, the num­ber of ar­rests made by ICE agents for vi­o­la­tions of im­mi­gra­tion law surged by 37% in the first half of 2017. In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, those ar­rests in­creased by 4.5%.

Arnold said some im­mi­grants’ rights ac­tivists have helped fa­cil­i­tate a cli­mate of fear by spread­ing in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about ICE sweeps that ei­ther didn’t hap­pen, or were in line with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies.

But pro­fes­sion­als who deal with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims say the per­cep­tion of hard­core en­force­ment tac­tics un­der Trump has led to wide­spread panic.

Adam Dodge, le­gal di­rec­tor at the Orange County do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ter Laura’s House, said that be­fore Fe­bru­ary, nearly half the cen­tre’s client base were im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally. That month, ICE agents in Texas en­tered a court­house to ar­rest a woman with­out le­gal sta­tus who was seek­ing a re­strain­ing or­der against an abuser.

“We went from half our clients be­ing un­doc­u­mented, to zero un­doc­u­mented clients,” he said.

A video record­ing this year of a fa­ther be­ing ar­rested by ICE agents af­ter drop­ping his daugh­ter off at a Lin­coln Heights school had a sim­i­lar ef­fect on abuse vic­tims in neigh­bor­ing Boyle Heights, said Re­beca Me­len­dez, di­rec­tor of well­ness pro­grammes for the East L.A. Women’s Cen­ter.

“They in­stilled the ul­ti­mate fear into our com­mu­nity,” she said. “They know they can trust us, but they are not trust­ing very many peo­ple past us.”

Even when vic­tims come for­ward, de­fense at­tor­neys some­times use the spec­tre of ICE as a weapon against them, to the frus­tra­tion of pros­e­cu­tors.

In the Bay Area, a Daly City man was fac­ing bat­tery charges this year af­ter flash­ing a knife and strik­ing the mother of his girl­friend, ac­cord­ing to court records. The man’s de­fense at­tor­ney raised the fact that the vic­tim was in the coun­try il­le­gally dur­ing pre­trial hear­ings, although a judge even­tu­ally ruled that ev­i­dence was ir­rel­e­vant and in­ad­mis­si­ble at trial, records show.

The case ended in a hung jury. When pros­e­cu­tors sought a re­trial, the vic­tim said she would not co­op­er­ate, in part, be­cause her im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus was raised dur­ing the trial, said Max Sz­abo, a spokesman for the San Fran­cisco Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.

San Fran­cisco Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ge­orge Gas­con said the case was one of sev­eral where his pros­e­cu­tors felt de­fense at­tor­neys sought to lever­age height­ened fears of de­por­ta­tion against vic­tims. He be­lieves that tac­tic, com­bined with ICE’s ex­panded pri­or­i­ties and pres­ence

in court­houses, is driv­ing down do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­port­ing among im­mi­grants in the city’s sprawl­ing Latino and Asian com­mu­ni­ties.

Gas­con de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as a “re­play” of the fear he saw in the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity while he was the po­lice chief in Mesa, Ari­zona, dur­ing Mari­copa County Sher­iff Joe Ar­paio’s cru­sade against peo­ple with­out le­gal sta­tus, which led to ac­cu­sa­tions of racial pro­fil­ing.

Stephanie Pen­rod, man­ag­ing at­tor­ney for the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Law Cen­ter in Oak­land, also said the num­ber of im­mi­grants with­out le­gal sta­tus will­ing to seek aid from law en­force­ment has dwin­dled.

Abusers fre­quently will threaten to call im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment agents on their vic­tims, a threat Pen­rod be­lieves has more teeth now given ICE’s in­creased pres­ence in court­houses.

“The big­gest dif­fer­ence for us now is those threats are le­git­i­mate,” she said. “Pre­vi­ously we used to ad­vise them we couldn’t pre­vent an abuser from call­ing ICE, but that it was un­likely ICE would do any­thing.”

If the prob­lem per­sists, Gas­con fears the con­se­quences could be deadly.

“The level of vi­o­lence in­creases,” he said. “It could, in some cases, lead to se­vere in­jury or homi­cide.”

Sher­iff’s deputy Marino Gon­za­lez (cen­tre), talks with com­mu­nity mem­bers dur­ing a block meet­ing to as­sure them they can come for­ward to lodge re­ports of abuse with­out be­ing ques­tioned about their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

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