Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anti-Immigrant Laws Put Women in Danger

Georgia's HB 87 immigration law is controversial for a great number of reasons, but one of the least discussed is the danger in which it places immigrant victims of domestic violence.
The delegation, led by Domestic Workers Alliance, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, and others, described the stories of women who had suffered indirect consequences of anti-immigrant policies, due in large part to the intense culture of fear that deters women from coming forward about abuse they've suffered or seeking help from public institutions. Anxieties about any contact with authorities -- even as the victim of violence -- could turn many women away from seeking law enforcement protection, which further segregates immigrants, whatever their legal status, from the rights they deserve under the law.

Already, under current immigration policies, a woman who fears getting caught without papers may often make a cruelly rational choice to stay with an abusive partner, rather than report domestic violence--in hopes of avoiding deportation or separation from her children. Many women may also forgo basic health care for themselves or their children for fear of coming under the radar of law enforcement.
Some members of Congress are trying to expand such laws, and thus such fear, to the entire nation.
According to immigrant advocates, a new immigration enforcement bill being considered in Congress would undermine existing immigration law by removing prosecutorial discretion and deferred action, two components that protect undocumented victims of domestic violence.

Michelle Ortiz — the supervising attorney of Lucha, a unit within the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center — says that Rep. Lamar Smith’s Hinder the Administration Legalization Temptation Act (better known as the HALT Act) would force immigration authorities to deport victims of domestic violence who reach out for help.

“Under the Violence Against Women Act, which has existed for 15 years, there have been specific protections for victims of domestic violence,” Ortiz says, “particularly for people who self-petition, who are victims of domestic violence at the hands of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.”

“When their self-petition is approved, and have already proven they are a victim and married this person in good faith, the Immigration Service gives them deferred action. That is not a legal status, but a protection from deportation, and provides a means to apply for work authorization.”

By ending deferred action, the HALT Act would strip immigration authorities of their authority to protect victims. The HALT Act would also affect the prosecutorial discretion memos issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which, according to Ortiz, are working.
We live in a state where nearly 100 women are killed each year in domestic violence homicides and in a country where a woman is battered every 9 seconds. We cannot afford any policies that deter women from seeking help, regardless of their immigration status. We will continue to update you if there are opportunities for legislative action on this issue.

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