Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

March 28, 2017 As the Steering Committee of the National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF), comprising national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic violence victims and women’s rights, we represent hundreds of organizations across the country dedicated to ensuring all survivors of violence receive the protections they deserve. For this reason, we write to express our deep concerns about the potential impact that proposals that seek to undermine community trust policies will have. Proposals that weaken community trust policies will be dangerous for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking, and in particular, for immigrant victims, and communities at large.

Undermining policies that local jurisdictions have determined are constitutionally sound and appropriate for their respective communities decreases the ability of law enforcement agencies to respond to violent crimes and assist all victims of crime, U.S. Citizens and immigrants alike. As recognized in the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), law enforcement plays a critical role in our coordinated community response to domestic and sexual violence.

Perpetrators use fear of deportation as abuse. Local policies that minimize intertwining of local law enforcement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) help bring the most vulnerable victims out of the shadows by creating trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community, which in turn help protect entire communities.[1]  Abusers and traffickers use the fear of deportation of their victims as a tool to silence and trap them. Not only are the individual victims harmed, but their fear of law enforcement leads many to abstain from reporting violent perpetrators or coming forward and, as a result, dangerous criminals are not identified and go unpunished.

Community trust policies are critical tools for increasing community safety. Laws that seek to intertwine the immigration and law enforcement systems will undermine the Congressional purpose of protections enacted under VAWA and will have the chilling effect of pushing immigrant victims into the shadows and allow criminals to walk on our streets. As VAWA recognizes, immigrant victims of violent crimes often do not contact law enforcement due to fear that they will be deported. According to a study conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza, 45% of the foreign-born callers expressed fear of calling and/or seeking help from the police or courts.[2]  Furthermore, 12% of US-Born callers expressed fear of seeking help due to the current wave of anti-immigrant policies. Immigrants are already afraid of contacting the police and these policies to further intertwine immigration and law enforcement systems will only exacerbate this fear.  The result is that perpetrators will be able to continue to harm others, both immigrant and U.S. Citizen victims alike.

Recent Immigration Executive Orders are Undermining Victim Protections in our Communities

Since January, victim advocates are describing the immense fear expressed by immigrant victims and their reluctance to reach out for help from police. Advocates at domestic violence programs in jurisdictions with large undocumented populations are reporting a “large drop in the number of women coming in for services,” indicating victims are not pursuing criminal charges against abusers or moving into domestic violence shelters.[3] Advocacy programs are reporting significant increases in calls from immigrant victims, many of whom are seeking information  on the advisability of working with law enforcement and prosecution given their fear of deportation in light of the Executive Orders. Other advocates are reporting a drop in the number of victims seeking accompaniment to work with police and seek protection orders. Thousands of victim advocates nationwide are reporting that they are uncertain how to best advise immigrant survivors about what will happen if they call the police or go to court.

Recent reports from law enforcement officials confirm this widespread fear and uncertainty. In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck has reported that his city is already seeing evidence of this intense fear: Reports of sexual assault have dropped by 25 percent and domestic violence by 10 percent among the Latino population since the beginning of the year.[4] In Denver, Colorado, City Attorney Kristin Bronson reported that since the issuance of the interior enforcement Executive Order, four domestic-violence victims have declined to pursue charges against their abusers out of fear of  deportation.[5] The Travis County, Texas District Attorney similarly reported that at least one domestic violence case there recently stalled because the victim declined to press charges out of fear of deportation.[6]

For these reasons, we urge you to affirm the intent and spirit of VAWA by supporting strong relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities, which is critical for public safety in general, and particularly essential for domestic and sexual violence victims. Thank you very much for your efforts to protect and support immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

For more information, please contact Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence at ghuang@api-gbv.org, (206) 420-7369, or Rosie Hidalgo, National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza, at rhidalgo@casadeesperanza.org, (202) 465-4807.