An Indefensible Silence On Domestic Abuse In The Undocumented Community

Undocumented women have two choices, face further abuse or get deported.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
ORLANDO SIERRA via Getty Images

Recently in an El Paso, Texas courthouse, Irvin Gonzalez was waiting for a hearing on her request for a protective order. A 31-year-old transgender woman, Gonzalez was nervous about seeing her abusive ex-boyfriend.

A caseworker from a women’s shelter, who had driven her to the courthouse, told her that he might not show up and that if he did, he wouldn’t be allowed near her. “I felt very safe and protected in the court,” she told The New Yorker magazine.

But then there was a commotion. Six agents from the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), likely acting on a tip from her ex-boyfriend, had come for her. There was no warrant or her arrest; she isn’t one of President Trump’s “bad hombres.” She is an undocumented immigrant who sought protection from a man who had brutally beaten her several times.

“This is really unprecedented,” El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told The Washington Post. Never before in her 23-year career had ICE agents shown up at a protective order hearing.

The mantra of the modern movement to end domestic violence is: You are not alone. Gonzalez’s arrest sends a different message: face further abuse or get deported. This is cruel and untenable choice. It’s also dangerous; already, far too few undocumented victims seek protection.

“This is cruel and untenable choice. It’s also dangerous; already, far too few undocumented victims seek protection.”

The full effects of President Trump’s crackdown on refugees, Muslim travelers, and undocumented immigrants aren’t yet clear. But one thing is certain: like many assaults on human rights and human dignity, it will disproportionately harm women. This month we recognize and celebrate the contribution women have made to our country.

Let’s mark Women’s History Month by reminding our political leaders that immigration and refugee protection are women’s issues.

As part of their effort to depict refugees as a threat to Americans, President Trump and other politicians have claimed that most of those fleeing Syria are young males. In fact, half of Syrian refugees — like all refugees worldwide — are women, and unlike men, they’re often forced to flee because of gender-based persecution such as rape, honor killing, forced marriage, and genital mutilation. And when they flee, they’re also vulnerable to sexual assault and sexual harassment from border security officials and detention center guards.

The President’s effort to shut out Muslims has attracted the bulk of attention. Overlooked are his moves that will further restrict the rights of refugees who cross the country’s southern border. A 2015 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that women face a “startling” degree of violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. Rape, assault, extortion, and threats by armed criminal groups are prevalent.

Yet many women — after taking the courageous step to defy their persecutors and seek asylum in the United States — have received neither the protection they need nor the humane treatment they deserve. The Obama Administration locked up thousands of women refugees from Central America, along with their young children, in jail-like detention centers. So-called “family detention” inhibits the effort of persecuted women to receive asylum and compounds their trauma. On several occasions, refugee women in detention facilities have gone on hunger strikes to protest inhumane conditions, including sexual assault by guards.

President Trump’s executive order on border security will lead to a massive increase in detention of refugees and build on the already-high barriers to asylum. Along with the travel ban and the roundup of undocumented immigrants, this order poses a grave threat to the rights and wellbeing of women.

“This order poses a grave threat to the rights and wellbeing of women.”

In his speech to Congress, the President indicated a willingness to compromise on deportation. One would hope that we could all agree that abused women like Irvin Gonzalez should not be deported as a cost for seeking protection. After all, unprosecuted domestic abuse is an insidious cancer that kills not only women but also children, of immigrants and citizens alike. As it happens, domestic abuse is ALS the most reliable predictor of all other violence; especially what might be called Supremacy Crimes that have no motive other than proving superiority.

But sufficient pushback against the President’s anti-immigrant agenda won’t happen without intensified activism and advocacy from both women and men.

Let us mark Women’s History Month by letting our political leaders know that we refuse to accept policies that treat the lives of women as disposable because they weren’t born in the United States. We refuse the lie that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes per capita than U.S. citizens. In fact, the truth is the other way around.

When women request protection from violence — in an American courtroom or at an American border — the U.S. government should live up to its ideals and provide it.

Go To Homepage

Before You Go

Popular in the Community