Climate of Fear Surrounding Immigration May Harm Survivors of Domestic Violence

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Domestic violence is a pattern of power and control, and an abuser will target vulnerabilities in order to exert influence on every aspect of their partner’s life. This damaging behavior affects people of every age, race, and background, but undocumented immigrants, have specific vulnerabilities tied to fears of deportation and being separated from their children. An abuser may use threats related to their partner’s immigration status as part of a pattern of coercive behavior, making it more difficult for survivors to report crimes or seek help.

As the Department of Homeland Security states on their website, “Some immigrants may be afraid to report acts of domestic violence to the police or to seek other forms of assistance. Such fear causes many immigrants to remain in abusive relationships.” In recognition of this difficult reality, and in an effort to create communities free from abuse, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented victims of domestic violence. This allows survivors to seek healing from abusive relationships and build new, safe homes for themselves and their children.

In contrast to this approach, it has been reported that the Department of Homeland Security has implemented sweeping new deportation rules, which expands priorities for deportation beyond those who have committed violent crimes to include anyone who is in the United States without papers.

Such a climate can have unintended consequences in rates of crime reporting, including reports of the crime of domestic violence. Survivors and their children that receive support from Clackamas Women’s Services are reporting to advocates that they are experiencing increased levels of fear and concern for themselves and their family members that is detouring them from seeking safety and help. The ability to seek help and freely report domestic violence is a life and death matter—intimate partner abuse is a leading cause of homicides among women.

Everyone who has experienced domestic violence deserves help and support. Nobody should have to stand and suffer in the shadows, worried that they have no place to turn. Clackamas Women’s Services stands with survivors of all backgrounds and experiences, including immigrants, and we strive to support them in their efforts to break the isolation of domestic violence.

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