FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | May 23, 2017
The Tahirih Justice Center is urging members of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose the Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act (Davis-Oliver Act), which continues to be debated by the Committee this week. The Act will not only put survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence at greater risk, but will embolden violent criminals who pose a danger to us all.
Title I of the Davis-Oliver Act seeks to erase the distinction between federal and local immigration enforcement and punish localities that refuse to do so. Such measures erode immigrant community trust of police, who rely on victims and witnesses to help get dangerous criminals off the streets. When immigrants can call 911 without fear of deportation, it is perpetrators – not victims or their children – who are deterred and punished. For some survivors, deportation means sentencing a U.S. citizen child to the custody of a violent abuser. Survivors will also face prolonged separation from their children due to increased detention and limited access to legal assistance under the Act.
While the Act seems to exempt survivors from local enforcement, it does not actually prohibit police from asking victims and witnesses about their immigration status.
“Even genuine exemptions within broad punitive measures are insufficient in practice to quell the sweeping, chilling effect that such broad measures have on survivors of violence,” said Irena Sullivan, Public Policy Advocate at the Tahirih Justice Center.
“Abusers and traffickers deliberately isolate victims to limit their access to information about their legal rights.”
As it is, despite long-standing protections under the Violence Against Women Act, even victims who hold lawful immigration status remain fearful of coming forward. Following passage of a Texas law to increase local immigration enforcement, a client aptly noted, “This is exactly what my abuser has been waiting for.” We are all less safe when we make it easier for perpetrators to commit crimes.
Tahirih is also deeply concerned about Section 314(a)(1)(E) of the Act. This section appears to shield survivors from criminalization for unlawful presence, however, it only protects survivors who have already filed for immigration relief. Criminalization of survivors allows perpetrators to exploit and manipulate victims with impunity.
Finally, Section 610 of the Act prohibits imposing specific requirements for conditions of confinement for families beyond those deemed sufficient by the Department of Homeland Security. Vulnerable survivors of gender-based violence and their families must be treated humanely and have access to critical services in detention to minimize re-traumatization. Tahirih strongly opposes this provision that may result in further, unnecessary suffering for those whom our humanitarian laws are intended to protect.
The Tahirih Justice Center is the only national, multi-city organization providing both policy advocacy and leadership and direct, on the ground legal services to immigrant and refugee women and girls fleeing violence. Tahirih will continue to monitor policy shifts that impact women and girls fleeing violence and advocate for the United States to honor its legal obligations to protect those fleeing human rights abuses.
Irena Sullivan, Public Policy Advocate, is available for comment on this topic. Please contact [email protected] to arrange an interview.