A 36-year-old woman finally gets the courage to flee her partner, who abused her physically and sexually for years. She seeks assistance from the police and Family Court, working closely with detectives and district attorneys as they attempt to bring criminal charges against her abuser. After years of mistreatment, she finally secures an order of protection against her ex and starts a new life.
Then her situation changes. Her abuser returns, threatening her and her children. He is clearly in violation of the protection order, but the woman won’t call the police. Why not? She’s an undocumented immigrant and her ex has threatened to make “one call” to immigration and have her deported.
We wish this story weren’t true. But it is the real experience of a woman living in New York City whose story was shared with us by an organization working to help immigrant victims of domestic abuse. And there are social workers in Michigan, Texas, California and all across this country who can tell similar stories as well.
Abusers of immigrant spouses or partners use the threat of deportation against their victims — of never seeing their children again or being sent back to a country they fled — to keep them too scared to report the abuse or to leave.
For decades, organizations like Safe Horizon in New York City and SafeHouse Center in Michigan, have worked to build bridges into these immigrant communities and establish the trust and support necessary to help women and men get out of abusive homes.
Now, with the signing of executive orders on immigration and the threat by the Department of Justice to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” President Trump has injected the weight of the US government into the power imbalance used by abusers.
Domestic abuse is a crime of power. Whether through physical violence, manipulation, or sexual assault, abusers leave their victims isolated and scared, unable to access help to stop the abuse. For immigrants, especially those with children who are US citizens or whose immigration status is tied to their partner, the power imbalance is even more extreme.
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