Dear Secretary Nielsen,
The Steering Committee of the National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF)
comprises national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic
violence victims and women’s rights. We represent hundreds of programs, service providers and community organizations across the country dedicated to making sure that all survivors of
violence receive the protections and services they need and deserve. With the announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is considering expanding the detention and criminal prosecution of parents seeking to cross the border with their children we urge you consider the impact these policies will have on immigrant victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking, as well as the long-term trauma that will be caused by separating these parents from their children.
Children separated from their parents often have more social and emotional problems and are
more likely to suffer poor health and less educational success due to the impacts of trauma on
their development. Attachment to a parent or caregiver in early childhood is one of the most
important milestones in the life trajectory. The bond between parent and child is essential in
building resilience in a child, even one growing up in difficult circumstances. Undermining this
protective factor in children by detaining and prosecuting their parents who are trying to protect them from harm will only serve to harm these children’s health and stability, both in the short term and the long term, with implications for not only them but their communities at large.
The countries from which these families and children escaped remain extremely dangerous.
Detention and removal will result in more domestic violence, sexual abuse, or even death. In
recent years, women and children fleeing rampant violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and
Honduras, have fled to the United States, seeking refuge. According to a recent United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) study, on Northern Triangle women seeking asylum
in the United States, prolonged instances of physical, sexual and psychological abuse in the
home are common reasons for flight. In recent years, the Northern Triangle countries of El
Salvador and Honduras have alternated in ranking as the murder capital of the world, and El
Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are in the top five globally for rates of female homicides. 1
Domestic violence is reportedly the leading form of abuse against women and girls in El
Salvador and Honduras. 2
In Guatemala, every 46 minutes a new case of sexual violence is reported, but the number
of incidents is likely much higher as many go unrecorded. 3 The Northern Triangle
countries have areas that are highly controlled by gangs, and women are often coerced
into joining. A woman’s duty to gang members is to “provide” sex for the members, and
initiation rituals for women frequently consist of being sexually assaulted on a regular
In many cases, the risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/ or trafficking in their
countries of origin remain unabated and victims subsequently attempt to enter the U.S. to
protect themselves and their children. Frequently, because of inadequate access to legal
representation, victims are unable to establish their eligibility for legal protections in the
United States, resulting in their removal. The Administration’s efforts to detain and
prosecute parents for seeking refuge with their children is unnecessarily cruel and will
serve to retraumatize and harm victims as well as their children whose crime is merely
that of seeking lives free of violence.
We Urge You to Cease the Prosecution of Parents
Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking and their children should
not be further endangered based on their inability to access justice or in hopes of
deterring others from escaping life-threatening circumstances in search of safety and
hope. For more information, please contact Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on
Gender Based Violence at email@example.com and Kiersten Stewart, Futures Without
Violence, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Archi Pyati, Tahirih Justice Center,
at ArchiP@tahirih.org. Thank you.
The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence
1 Geneva Declaration, Global Burdens of Armed Violence (Geneva: Geneva Declaration, 2015).
2 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection
Needs of Asylum-Seekers from El Salvador” (March 2016) and UNHCR, “Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the
International Protection Needs of Asylum Seekers from Honduras” (July 2016).
3 Claudia Palma, “Cada 46 minutos se comete una violación” Prensa Libre, May 16, 2016,
http://www.prensalibre.com/guatemala/ justicia/cada-46- minutos-se- comete-una-violacion