Immigrants vulnerable to domestic violence

Pub date July 30, 2013
WriterRebecca Bowe

In San Francisco Sup. John Avalos’ District 11, half of all residents were born outside the U.S. In Sup. Jane Kim’s District 6, more than a third of residents are foreign-born, and almost half speak a language other than English.

Given the sizable immigrant population in San Francisco, it may not come as a surprise that Secure Communities (S-Comm), a federal immigration program administered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is highly unpopular. What might not be so obvious is how dramatically S-Comm can impact the lives of foreign-born women who are survivors of domestic violence.

The reason for this is simple. “If you are a victim or a survivor of domestic violence and you call the police, you do not want to end up deported,” Beverly Upton of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium explained at a July 23 rally, where advocates from organizations such as Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Causa Justa, the Filipino Community Center, and others stood and held banners demonstrating opposition to S-Comm. “We want it to be safer to call the police, not less safe.”

A member of Mujeres Unidas y Activas who introduced herself as Lourdes and spoke through a translator delivered a personal account of feeling fearful of police as well as an abusive partner. “Many times, abusers tell us not to call the police, because the police will not believe us. They say the police will probably deport us.”

The domestic violence and immigrant community advocates were there to champion Avalos’ Due Process for All Ordinance, which is being introduced at today’s Board meeting and is co-sponsored by seven other supervisors, essentially guaranteeing its passage. Avalos himself didn’t speak, and Sups. David Campos and Board President David Chiu, co-sponsors of the legislation, sent female staff members to make statements on their behalf as part of the all-female roster of speakers.

The legislation prohibits law enforcement officials from detaining individuals solely in response to immigration detainer requests issued by immigration authorities under S-Comm. As things stand, “the request has been honored in many cases,” Avalos explained in comments to the Guardian, even though California Attorney General Kamala Harris has affirmed that local law enforcement agencies are not obligated to comply with ICE detainers because they are mere “requests” and not legally binding. Since 2010, according to data provided be Avalos’ office, 784 San Franciscans have been deported after being turned over to federal authorities due to ICE detainers.

Sup. Jane Kim called S-Comm “a giant step backward when it comes to equality and fairness,” and added that S-Comm “makes our neighborhoods less safe.”

Legal Counsel Freya Horne read a statement on behalf of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, stating that the sheriff has reduced the number of ICE detainers leading to deportations, and was supportive of Avalos’ legislation. She added that Mirkarimi had made it a policy to honor immigration detainer requests only in cases of criminal convictions of serious or violent felonies.

Avalos said he was compelled to move the legislation forward because “I’ve talked to so many people whose families have been separated, and have been devastated,” due to deportations under S-Comm. “We want to make sure we’re maintaining a level of due process,” he added, since the detainer requests are routinely issued without warrants or a requirement to show probable cause.