New Trump policy puts domestic violence victims at greater risk of deportation

New Trump policy puts domestic violence victims at greater risk of deportation
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Donald Trump is, again, putting families — especially women and children — in harm’s way.

Due to a new Trump administration policy, more abused immigrants will likely face deportation and thousands will be encouraged to stay in the shadows and remain with their abusers.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE is turning an agency tasked with granting visas, work authorizations, and other permits to immigrants into another cog in the deportation machine. On July 5, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo that dramatically broadens when the agency may issue a Notice To Appear (NTA), the document that begins an immigrant’s journey towards deportation.

 

In the past, USCIS could issue NTAs but only did so in limited cases. The new agency guidance dramatically expands USCIS’s immigration enforcement function and allows USCIS to issue NTAs for any case it denies when the applicant is found to be unlawfully present.

For our country’s most vulnerable immigrants, the impact of this memo is dramatic. Currently, a capped number of immigrants may apply for visas as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other serious crimes. 

Congress created the visas to help law enforcement identify and prosecute perpetrators of abuse. To access these limited visas, immigrant victims must help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activities. Victims’ engagement with law enforcement makes it more likely that police and prosecutors can bring successful cases against offenders, enabling them to reduce crime in our communities. 

For domestic violence victims, these visas serve an additional purpose. If you are undocumented and your abusive spouse has legal status, your dependency and vulnerability is compounded. Giving the abused spouse legal status is critical to help break down a power imbalance in these relationships.

The July 5 guidance threatens victims’ ability to safely apply for immigration relief. When immigrant victims consider seeking legal immigration status, they must now weigh whether it is worth possibly being deported?

In some cities, already we know that fewer immigrants are reporting their experiences of domestic violence because of fear of deportation. Here in the D.C. metro area and across the nation, we will likely see a drop in the number of abused immigrants seeking legal status. 

Take for example Maria (her name has been changes to protect her identity), a typical Ayuda client whose strength and resilience are anything but typical. Maria was living with the father of her two children in the United States. He drank heavily and was emotionally and physically abusive. He would regularly force her to have sex with him and beat her when she would not comply. He would even beat and berate her when the children were present.

Maria finally decided that she could not raise her children as they witnessed constant abuse by their father and she fled to a friend’s home. We’re now working to ensure her safety, show her a pathway to achieving independence from her abuser through filing for the special visa for victims of crime and help her start a new and positive path.

Now, immigrants like Maria will face even more impossible choices. If they want to help police and seek legal status, they will put themselves in the crosshairs, increasing their chances of deportation.

Even in this divided, hyper-partisan era, widespread public outcry resulted in a reversal of the inhumane family separation policy at the border. Prominent leaders in both parties who spoke out for families must now raise their voices for vulnerable immigrant victims living in our communities.

Paula Fitzgerald is the executive director for Ayuda, a non-profit organization that provides legal services for immigrants in the Washington area, providing immigration and family law representation, social services and language access support for low-income immigrants.