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Results of a nationwide survey of advocates and attorneys reveals heightened climate of fear for immigrant survivors 

On June 3, 2019, seven national organizations  – Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (APIGBV), ASISTA, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), and the Tahirih Justice Center – released the results of a nationwide survey of advocates and attorneys on the fears and concerns of immigrant survivors in reporting domestic violence and sexual assault.

“This survey shows us the grave chilling effect that recent immigration policy changes are having on immigrant survivors of violence,” said Archi Pyati, Chief of Policy for the Tahirih Justice Center. “This is the message they are receiving: either stay with your abuser or risk deportation.”

A total of 575 victim advocates and attorneys in 42 states, one U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia completed the survey and reported how changing immigration policies affect the concerns of service providers and the fears of immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The survey findings showed that 59 percent of respondents observed an increase in the number of immigration-related questions that their agencies were receiving from immigrant survivors.

“Survivors of domestic and sexual violence already face difficult challenges in escaping and overcoming abuse. The current environment creates even higher barriers in getting help, and emboldens abusers to continue to act without repercussions,” said Grace Huang, Policy Director at the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence.

The survey revealed that 52% of advocates have worked with immigrant survivors who decided to drop civil or criminal cases because they were fearful to continue with their cases.  This demonstrates an increase compared to a previous survey conducted in 2017. Additionally, three out of four service providers responding to the survey reported that immigrant survivors had concerns about going to court for a matter related to the abuser/offender. Finally, 76 percent of advocates reported that immigrant survivors have shared concerns about contacting police.

“If immigrants are too afraid to call the police or go to court because of fear of deportation, they become more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” said Rosie Hidalgo, Senior Director of Public Policy for Casa de Esperanza: National Latina Network.

“This undermines victim safety as well as public safety and is contrary to our nation’s commitment to affording protections for all survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Current immigration policies, including increased entanglement of local and state law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement efforts, tightened eligibility for legal protections, a narrowed pathway to asylum, and expanded deportation priorities have had a significant impact on the climate of fear affecting immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and has undermined their access to safety and justice.

“While deeply unsettling, it comes as no surprise that a huge majority (76%) of immigrant survivors are hesitant to reach out to the police for assistance,” said Qudsia Raja, Policy Director, National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“This trend is consistent with what advocates at The Hotline have been hearing on the lines over the past several years. We have serious concerns that reasonable fears of detention, deportation, or family separation is causing immigrant survivors to stay in increasingly dangerous relationships.”

Congress created important protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in the express recognition that perpetrators often exploit a victim’s lack of immigration status as a tactic of abuse. The U and T visa program in VAWA was created to “strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking… and other crimes created against aliens, while offering protection to victims of such offenses in keeping with the humanitarian interests of the United States.”

“Established federal law has been lifesaving for survivors of violence. It is vital that these protections remain available to ensure that survivors can flee and rebuild their lives,” said Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“Abusers often use the threat of deportation against immigrant survivors as a means to maintain power and control. When survivors fear that reaching out to services and institutions like the courts will lead to their deportation or separation from their families, this weakens public safety and existing laws designed for their protection, while at the same time strengthens the threats of abusers and perpetrators of crime.” said Cecelia Friedman Levin, Senior Policy Council at ASISTA.

“If we are serious about addressing the epidemic of sexual violence in our country, we must create safe avenues for immigrant survivors to come forward and receive help,” said Terri Poore, Policy Director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.  “It is deeply alarming that so many immigrant survivors suffer fear of deportation in addition to the trauma of sexual violence.”

Read the Survey Key Findings report to learn more about the results of the 2019 Advocate and Legal Service Survey Regarding Immigrant Survivors.

For comment on this topic, please contact Danny Hajjar: [email protected], (202) 478-6182.