As the Trump Administration continues to issue unnecessary, relentless attacks on our
nation’s immigrant population, undocumented survivors of domestic and sexual violence may
feel even more powerless. Currently, there are few federal protections for undocumented
survivors that provide some relief from deportation. For example, under the Violence Against
Women Act (VAWA), undocumented male and female survivors of domestic violence can be
protected if they hold a qualifying relationship (i.e. spouse, parent, etc.) with their abuser who is
either a legal citizen or holds permanent residency status (Department of Homeland Security).
In these cases, survivors are able to apply for a green card without needing the sponsorship of
a citizen or permanent resident for immigration benefits. Additionally, U-Visas and T-Visas are
designed to protect survivors of different types of illegal crimes. U-Visas offer protection for
victims of certain crimes, including sexual assault, rape, incest, sexual exploitation, etc., while T-
Visas provide protections specifically for survivors of human trafficking.
Though these protections exist, numerous barriers, including the lack of language
accessible and culturally competent resources, limited financial means, and widespread fear of
deportation, continue to prevent survivors from receiving the help they need. Additionally, the
existence of those legal protections do not guarantee its use and success. For example, a
mother and her son were recently detained by ICE at a courthouse after they had appeared at a
domestic violence hearing in North Carolina (Huffington Post). This is not an isolated incident;
ICE has detained, and continues to detain, numerous undocumented survivors of violence.
Undocumented survivors may also be hesitant to seek medical attention after experiencing
violent crimes as many states have mandatory reporting laws for domestic violence related
injuries. As this trend continues, more and more undocumented survivors will not receive the
help that they need.
Comprehensive immigration reform is both necessary and well overdue. By continuing to
criminalize and deport survivors of violent crimes, we are both supporting and enabling abusers.
As a nation, we can do better. We must replace Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy with
a multifaceted, zero-tolerance approach to supporting survivors of sexual and domestic
violence. All persons, regardless of identity, should hold the right to live free from violence,
abuse, and torture. By criminalizing victims of violent, heinous crimes, we, as a nation, are no
better than the abusers themselves.
If you find yourself to be a victim of sexual violence and/or sexual harassment at work here in the San Francisco Bay Area, reach out to one of our attorneys for a consultation. With offices in San Francisco, San Anselmo, and Oakland, we’re convenient and can schedule a confidential assessment of your potential litigation.
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