Are fears of deportation keeping abuse victims from speaking out?

The Trump administration’s tough talk on immigration has had a chilling effect on the immigrant community in Los Angeles, especially on women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

One victim, who requested anonymity out of fear of deportation, described enduring beatings from her husband for many years without ever calling authorities. She came from Mexico when she was two years old and was undocumented.

“I was scared to call the police because he would always tell me that if I did no one was going to believe me, I didn’t have papers, I was going to get deported, I was going to lose my kids,” she said.” So, that’s what I was afraid of, all those years.”

She is no longer with her husband and she’s no longer undocumented. Victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault qualify for something called a U Visa, which is a four-year work permit. But even with the U Visa, the fear of deportation and being separated from her four children has not gone away. In fact, it’s gotten worse over the last several months as President Trump’s administration has talked about cracking down on illegal immigration.

“I came here as an immigrant. My parents were immigrants. So they raised me to be scared of the police. So with everything that’s going on now. I’m more scared.” She said she doesn’t trust that police aren’t working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Los Angeles Police worry that this fear has rippled through through the immigrant community. The department recently announced that reports of sexual assaults by Latinos dropped by 25 percent in the first two months of 2017, compared to the same time last year. The number of domestic violence reports has gone down 10 percent.

“While, we can’t draw a direct relationship between the drop and what’s going on in the federal government right now, we can say that it’s concerning and we’re going to look at every aspect of why people feel they can’t report that crime and why they’re not reporting that crime,” said LAPD public information director Josh Rubenstein.

Rubenstein said the department has reached out to the immigrant community to help ensure them that they can turn to police and to remind them that the role of LAPD is to enforce criminal law, not immigration law.

Lucie Hollingsworth, director of legal services at the YWCA Glendale, a shelter-based domestic violence program, said some of her clients have avoided taking legal action because they are afraid that ICE agents might be at the courthouse. My family law cases have dropped dramatically. Many of our undocumented clients don’t want to file anything in family court whether it be a restraining order, paternity actions, custody visitation or even divorce,” she said

Hollingsworth said she doesn’t know of any clients who have been deported, but still believes this is a new era, and that the best thing she can do is arm her clients with as much information possible.

(Photo: Tony Webster)