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Immigrant Domestic Violence Victims

Victimized Twice Under ICE's S-Comm Program

November 19, 2010

In California this summer a domestic violence victim contacted the local police for assistance;  instead she was arrested because of her immigration status.  Acting under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program entitled Secure Communities (S-Comm), fingerprints of the women were taken by police and immediately transferred to ICE.  Although the police filed no charges against her, she was taken into ICE custody.  Instead of receiving assistance for the violence she suffered, she was victimized twice. 

Secure Communities (ICE 287(g)) involves local law enforcement officers in the identification of undocumented immigrants, without acting as immigration enforcement officials.  Under the program, the fingerprints of persons arrested are cross-referenced with data bases of the FBI’s Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) as well as the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) facilitated by the Department of Homeland Security.  Immigration status can be  determined within hours, and a person identified as undocumented, is subject to deportation upon disposition of the case.  It does not empower local law enforcement agencies to act as deputized immigration officers.  The S-Comm program is active in over 600 counties across the country. 

Clearly, the Secure Communities program did not protect the California woman in any way.  What purpose then, does it serve?  The program is similar to the highly controversial Arizona State law 1 that gave the police broad power to detain anyone they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. The S-Comm program streamlines the enforcement of existing immigration law but raises serious civil liberties and racial profiling concerns.

For victims of domestic violence, such programs are a barrier to seeking assistance and protection from their abusers.  Immigrant women, regardless of their status, face often-overwhelming challenges when they are in an abusive relationship. Language barriers, cultural barriers, fear of authorities, and threats from abusers to take their children or turn them over to authorities combine to make the already challenging process of escaping abuse even more difficult. 

In Empire Justice’s practice, almost every client who is an immigrant victim of domestic violence is threatened by their abuser over their immigration status.  Programs like S-Comm give voice to the abuser’s threats because, with such policies in place, immigrant victims (as well as witnesses) of domestic violence will not report abuse to police in fear of the immigration consequences they may suffer.  If domestic violence victims are to trust police enforcement in their communities, they must not be threatened with immigration consequences. 


1  Arizona Immigration Law SB1070 2010. The immigration law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. The measure would require migrants to produce papers verifying their status when asked to do so by a police officer.  Lawsuits are currently pending charging that Arizona violated the U.S. Constitution by passing its own immigration law. Civil rights groups have argued that only the federal government has the right to create and enforce immigration policy.


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