undocumented female immigrants, VAWA, US immigration
© Justin McWilliams

Here, immigration attorney Kushal Patel exposes how undocumented female victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse feel unable to go to the police, due to the policy adopted by President Trump

“I say, and this is our new statement, the system is full. We can’t take you anymore. Whether it is asylum or anything you want, illegal immigration, we can’t take you anymore. Our country is full. Our area is full. The sector is full. We can’t take you anymore. Sorry, can’t happen. So turn around, that’s the way it is.” – President Donald Trump.

Since taking office in November 2016, the Trump administration has delivered on its promise to be tough on undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Despite the setbacks and slow progress towards building a physical wall across the southern border of the United States southern border with Mexico, the insidious BUILD THE WALL chants have created a psychological wall for individuals living in the United States without status. Undocumented females are vulnerable to exploitation, often facing sexual and physical abuse in addition to the other negative emotional and behavioural concerns, such as anxiety, fear, depression, anger, social isolation and lack of a sense of belonging.

Many police departments report that the sharpest declines began in early 2017 with the new president’s tougher approach to immigration. Many police departments working in large immigrant populations face an uphill battle to get undocumented immigrants to trust them as there is little distinction between the police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.

According to reports from police departments in cities with large Hispanic and immigrant communities such as Houston, Los Angeles, Denver and San Diego have seen a significant drop in the number of domestic violence and sexual assault reports from the Hispanic community.

In Houston, while the Hispanic community has grown significantly to 44% of the overall population, reports show a 16% decline in the number of domestic violence reports from the Hispanic community. Undocumented women whose lack of valid immigration status creates a culture of suffering in silence, exacerbated by the fear that communicating with government authorities will result in their arrest and deportation.

reports show a 16% decline in the number of domestic violence reports

The current administration fuels this fear through its encouragement of a hardline approach to immigration.

On January 25, 2017, the President signed Executive Order 13768, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. ICE officials stated that the increase in arrests and removals could be attributed to this executive order, specifically the provisions terminating the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP).

PEP was a policy established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on November 20, 2014, which prioritized ICE to seek the arrest and deportation of individuals convicted of serious crimes, intentionally participated in an organized criminal gang to further the illegal activity of the gang, or poses a danger to national security. The increase in arrests and deportations are aimed at making the United States a safer place by detaining and removing criminals, gang members and suspected terrorists.

No longer needing to prioritize and focus on arresting and deporting criminals, gang members and suspected terrorists, ICE stepped up its enforcement actions arresting undocumented immigrants for minor violations and those who pose no security threat. The data from ICE arrests shows that since the rescission of PEP, the majority of individuals who have been arrested or deported were charged with driving under the influence, drug violations and breaking immigration laws.

individuals who have been arrested or deported were charged with driving under the influence

In the fiscal year 2018, ICE arrested 158,581 non-citizens, an 11% increase from 2017. In the same year, ICE reported that 256,085 undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, an increase of 13% from 2017.

Aggressive immigration enforcement has become commonplace and there is a palpable fear of the authorities within immigrant communities, and these fears are reinforced each time parents are arrested as they drop children off to school, or victims of sexual and physical abuse are arrested after testifying against their abuser. Such arrests do not occur every day, however, the fact that they are occurring is enough to force undocumented victims of abuse and other crimes into silence. Without victims and witnesses of crimes coming forward to assist the police with their investigations, the perpetrators are often able to walk free.

Since 1994, Congress has seen the need to offer legal protection for undocumented women and children who remained in abusive relationships and homes because they were wholly dependent on their United States citizen and legal resident abusers for immigration status in the United States. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first created in 1994, and in 2000 with strong bi-partisan support, VAWA was reauthorized expanding the U visa.

This allowed the victims of a broader range of crimes to go to the law authorities without fear that reporting would result in deportation, but rather a path to obtaining status and stability for themselves and their families in the United States.

The primary purposes for creating these protections as part of this visa classification were to stem the growing heinous humanitarian abuses occurring and to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, with the goal of strengthening the relations between the police and immigrant communities.

We are now facing a situation where police departments across the country have fractured relationships with their immigrant communities.

Community support networks and local women’s charities are filling the void and offering education and support to the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants, but these shelters and support groups do not have the resources to help all the individuals in need.

The United States is often regarded as the land of opportunity, freedom, and protection. However, with recent changes in enforcement, many women and children without status in the United States who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse in the United States believe suffering in silence or running away are the only options available to them.

In this polarised political climate, the voices of these women are stifled and not heard.

Many feel that the United States seems to be regressing and it is necessary for the country to take a step back and review the mission of the nation’s founding fathers in order to ensure basic human protections are provided to all individuals in the United States irrespective of their immigration status.

As President George Washington said:

“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”


Kushal Patel

Associate Attorney

Laura Devine Attorneys

Immigration Law

Call 116 123 to speak to a Samaritan


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