April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. In observation, Georgia lawmakers should reject legislation that attacks immigrant women, including H.B. 87 , a bill currently pending in the Georgia legislature that is a copycat of Arizona's S.B. 1070 racial profiling law. H.B. 87 would endanger victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by creating more fear and distrust of local law enforcement in communities across the state, much like 287(g) has done. Similar to 287(g) agreements, which are agreements between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police/sheriff departments, H.B. 87 would charge local law enforcement with enforcing federal immigration law.
As the ACLU of Georgia's reports on Cobb and Gwinnett counties detail, 287(g) agreements have made members of immigrant communities fear and distrust local law enforcement and ultimately more hesitant to report crime.
According to Alyse López-Salm, Community Outreach Advocate for Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV), “287(g) has ensured that many survivors of domestic violence remain in the shadows—terrified to call the police or even reach out to organizations like Partnership Against Domestic Violence for help.” Alyse says that when survivors of domestic violence finally come into contact with PADV, they say they were afraid that seeking help would have a negative effect on their immigration status.
As "Jenny’s" account illustrates, this perception is far from groundless. On July 29, 2009, Jenny called 911 to stop her partner from assaulting her. But instead of protecting Jenny from the man who had been hitting and kicking her, the Cobb County police officers who responded to her call relied upon her abusive domestic partner's account of what prompted Jenny’s 911 call, as she speaks little English. Her abuser's side of the story was, not surprisingly, far from honest.
According to attorney Erik Meder, who represents Jenny in her deportation case, as a direct consequence of seeking help from the police, Jenny was herself arrested; physically separated from her infant daughter; spent five days in the Cobb County jail; and placed in immigration removal proceedings.
Jenny’s experience and that of others like her are likely to have a negative ripple effect, because as word gets around, similarly situated survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Cobb and other 287(g) counties may be dissuaded from seeking help in the first place.
The legislation now under consideration in Georgia would create a similar atmosphere of terror throughout the state. H.B. 87 would authorize the police to investigate individuals’ immigration status in the course of an offense, including traffic stops, if they fail to provide one of the select identification documents.
If passed, all Georgians will have to carry ID on them at all times in order to avoid being detained while police try to determine their status. Despite language that purports to prohibit investigation of immigration status for victims of a crime, in reality, the legislation will have a chilling effect for crime victims who will be even more scared of calling the police.
Immigration status significantly affects the willingness of immigrant women to seek law enforcement help. Rape and sexual assault already have low reporting rates. Immigrants who are victims or witnesses of sexual assault will be even less likely to report and aid in the prosecution. Immigrants with stable permanent immigration status are more than twice as likely as women with temporary legal immigration status to call police for help in domestic violence cases (43.1% vs. 20.8%). This rate decreased to 18.8% if the battered immigrant was undocumented. These reporting rates are significantly lower than reporting rates of battered women generally in the United States (between 53% and 58%).
As we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Georgia legislators should heed the call of women’s rights advocates and reject the Arizona copycat legislation that is sure to further drive underground survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.