The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (“NTF”), comprised of national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic violence victims and women’s rights, including immigrant and LGBTQ organizations, strongly condemns the recent detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers of an immigrant transgender woman and victim of domestic violence who was in court seeking a protection order from her abusive partner in El Paso, Texas. This was made worse by the fact that, according to news reports of the incident, ICE officers appear to have been tipped off to her whereabouts by her abuser. This arrest sets a dangerous precedent and creates a chilling effect for all immigrant survivors of sexual and domestic violence, further marginalizing them as they consider reaching out to law enforcement or the courts to seek help.
For transgender women, who experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, and often experience discrimination and violence when attempting to access services, this injustice is life-threatening. Transgender women too often experience sexual violence, maltreatment, and other forms of violence while in detention facilities. Because of these realities, this arrest and detainment is an utterly deplorable and harmful response to her request for help.
Perpetrators of domestic violence use a wide range of abusive behaviors to try to control their partners and prevent them from seeking help. In the case of immigrant and undocumented survivors, abusers often exploit their immigration status as a tool of control, threatening to report them to ICE, to have them deported, and to separate them from their children. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally passed in 1994 and most recently reauthorized in 2013, recognizes the acute challenges faced by immigrant and undocumented survivors and provides important protections for them to come forward to be able to seek safety and to hold perpetrators accountable. This includes VAWA provisions to protect the confidentiality of immigrant victims and prevent ICE from engaging in enforcement actions in sensitive locations, such as a courthouse where a victim is seeking an order of protection, and to prevent them from doing so based on information furnished by an abuser. These provisions recognize that abusers leverage victims’ fear of ICE to prevent victims from seeking help, and seek to prevent ICE from being a tool of abuse. The most recent re-authorization of VAWA, also included nondiscrimination protections for LGBT survivors.
The NTF is gravely concerned that the case in El Paso will have a chilling impact on immigrant survivors of violence, forcing them to stay with abusive partners and endure increased violence out of fear of deportation. Furthermore, recent Executive Orders calling for increased law enforcement involvement in deportation efforts will further drive immigrant victims and witnesses into the shadows. This only reinforces the power dynamic of abusers and undermines public safety.
The NTF calls on Congressional leaders to stand up for immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence and condemn ICE’s unconscionable role in undermining VAWA protections and reducing the ability of immigrant victims to seek safety.
For more information, please contact Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on
Gender-Based Violence, at firstname.lastname@example.org, Rosie Hidalgo, Casa De Esperanza,
at email@example.com, or Terra Slavin, Los Angeles LGBT Center, at