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Home / Articles / In the News / When Fighting Abuse Could Lead to Deportation

When Fighting Abuse Could Lead to Deportation

New laws may scare immigrant survivors into silence

When Fighting Abuse Could Lead to Deportation

Stricter laws around immigration are making domestic violence survivors who fear deportation stay silent. “It’s a particularly difficult time for immigrant survivors and those who help them,” says Gail Pendleton, co-founder and executive director of ASISTA, an organization that supports immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. “I’ve been working in immigration rights since the 1980s and I’ve never seen this level of antagonism toward immigrants and women.”

Recent changes in U visa laws give domestic violence survivors fewer protections. These visas are given to people who cooperate with police, so survivors often have them granted in conjunction with cases against their abusers.

With the recent change, immigrants can be deported while they are waiting for their visas. That risk makes it less likely they will report crimes or cooperate with the police. As a result, immigrant survivors are more likely to return to a home where their partner freely abuses them. But, it’s a public safety issue as well—when people are hesitant to work with police, it’s harder for police to stop crime, putting both survivors and the general public in danger, especially considering most mass shootings in the U.S. are rooted in domestic violence

Find Help Before You Need It

Immigrants who are facing domestic violence can stay safer with some advance planning.

  • Find legal assistance so you can connect with an expert who can help. “It’s vital to find an advocate or an attorney experienced in helping immigrant survivors,” Pendleton says. “This is a very small part of immigration law—most immigration attorneys do not have that kind of experience, and it’s very different from other kinds of immigration applications.I can’t stress enough how important it is to contact an attorney who knows this stuff,” she adds. These organizations that help immigrants might also be able to help.
  • Put a safety plan in place. In addition to safety planning for leaving an abuser, immigrants also need an ICE safety plan. A new law fast-tracks deportation proceedings for people who can’t prove they’ve been in the United States for at least two years. As part of your ICE safety plan:
  • Know where you are likely to encounter ICE and, to the extent possible, avoid these places.
  • Always carry your attorney’s contact information. 
  • Carry a card stating that you know your rights.
  • Carry your valid license, work permit, or green card if you have one.
  • Create emergency contact sheets and share them with family and friends in the U.S. and your home country.
  • Keep photos or copies of documents such as children’s passports, medical records, financial records, school records, immigration papers, and criminal records, and know where these original documents are stored.
  • Make a plan for childcare and make sure family members can find you if you are detained. “You need to be thinking ahead of time of the worst-case scenario and asking, ‘What do I have in place for myself and children?’” Pendleton says.
  • Be careful about what you post on social media.“Social media is now dangerous,” Pendleton says. Social media has always given abusers an avenue to track down survivors. And now, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can create fake social media accounts to monitor information that people post. It’s not clear how these accounts would be used, and they violate the terms of use of some social media platforms. Still, be cautious about sharing any information on social media that could be connected with your immigration status.

    What Shelters and Advocates Can Do

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    Advocates need to build trust with immigrant survivors, so survivors know where they can turn for help and know that the people helping them will not help them get deported. You can also:

    • Expand safety planning. If you work with immigrant domestic violence survivors, add ICE safety planning to your regular safety planning. Understand the rights immigrants have, in case ICE shows up at your organization. 
    • Build relationships with your local police department.“We can’t have a vulnerable community preyed on without any consequences or accountability, and local law enforcement understands that,” Pendleton says. 
    • Meet with local ICE officers.“It’s a good time for the community to ask to meet in a friendly way,” Pendleton says. Faith-based and health communities can talk to ICE about why it’s important for them to refer survivors to a local shelter rather than starting deportation proceedings. “They have tools they can use to continue to process in the U.S.,” Pendleton says.
    • Accompany immigrant survivors to court if they need to get a protection order or attend a hearing.