One form of domestic abuse is the threat to have the victim and her family deported when the victim lives in the country without papers. As a direct result of the recently enacted SB4 (the so called “sanctuary cities ban”, undocumented victims who might have reported abuse in the past are now wary of doing so for fear they might be targeted for deportation. The law, taking effect on September 1, virtually orders local law enforcement to question legally detained or arrested people about their immigration status and punish officials who don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The law subjects law enforcement officials like sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders to Class A misdemeanor charges. SB 4 mandates civil penalties for institutions like colleges and groups that violate the provision, beginning at $1,000 for a first offense and rising as high as $25,500 for each infraction that follows. The controversial law is now being heard by San Antonio U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia after lawsuits filed by organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens and others.
In the current environment, as mentioned by several groups addressing the problem, domestic abuse hotline calls are already seeing a decline. Women don’t want to come forward and report domestic abuse situations, even if their lives are at risk. They are afraid that when they go to court that they will be taken in and deported. Underreporting of domestic abuse is a problem believed to be common, but in the shadowy and silent world of undocumented women, it is impossible to quantify. Fear of deportation discourages women from seeking help from the police, even in the worst circumstances, when their lives are at risk. Sadly, abused immigrant spouses are dependent on family members who do have an immigration status or citizenship. The dependence is not only legal but also financial.
While immigration status is legally irrelevant to obtaining emergency medical assistance, shelter, to obtaining protective orders, custody of children or a divorce, now it has stopped being relevant as to whether or not abused undocumented women call the police. Alarmingly, SB4 now has the unwanted effect of keeping victims of domestic violence silent and feeling like they need to stay in the relationship because they fear they can no longer call the police, because they believe police will no longer protect victims in any situation. This distrust is not unfounded. In the past, other immigration laws have included provisions ordering state and local law enforcement officers to identify and detain undocumented immigrants coming across during their course of duties.
Undocumented victims of crime fear that they will be processed like any other criminal and will be turned into ICE for deportation because of the likely racial profiling that critics say will be triggered by SB4’s provisions. Among Latina women, the perceived notion that calling the police will now automatically mean deportation will be the biggest barrier to seeking help for many of them who have risked their lives to cross the border, were brought to the U.S. as infants, or were fleeing what they consider to be even worse situations in their countries of origin.
Physical abuse sometimes escalates to the point that victims are murdered by their partners. SB4 might just contribute to an increase of this crime. Back in 2010 I knew a young Mexican woman living in Fort Worth who was kept in the cage of physical abuse by her husband. Even though her own employer and many others counseled her to call the police and seek shelter, she was too afraid to do so. Eventually, her husband, also an undocumented immigrant, beat her unconscious and then drowned her in their bathtub. He then fled to Mexico, never to be heard of again. This is the shocking reality many undocumented immigrant women face.