Undocumented immigrants who are the victims of domestic abuse are now under increased pressure to avoid reporting their abusers.
This is because victims fear reporting incidents to law enforcement as their attackers may then alert immigration officials about their status.
The transgender woman and undocumented immigrant from El Paso had told law enforcement that her former boyfriend had physically assaulted her on multiple occasions. Once, she added, he even chased her with a knife.
While seeking a protective order against her abuser at a courthouse, she arrived at the 10th floor of the building for her hearing only to find a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer standing outside of the courtroom.
The judge eventually granted Gonzalez's request for a protective order, but after leaving the courthouse, Gonzalez was detained and indicted on charges of illegal re-entry — she had been deported several times since 2010, Mother Jones reports. If convicted, Gonzalez could face 10 years in prison.
Now, Gonzalez is saying that her abuser was the one who alerted ICE about her whereabouts.
Cecilia Friedman Levin, an advocate working with immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and violence, said this arrest “lends credibility to the threats of abusers.”
Levin serves as the senior policy counsel for ASISTA, a national organization focused on giving assistance to immigrants who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Noting that abusers often use immigration status as a means to keep undocumented partners trapped in abusive relationships, Levin told Mother Jones that the country's pursuit of tougher enforcement of immigration rules puts “enormous power and control in the hands of the abuser to say, 'See what happened in El Paso? The same thing is going to happen to you if you reach out for help.'"
As President Donald Trump's administration seems to have removed existing protections for immigrants who are victims of violence or domestic abuse, Mother Jones reports, the El Paso case could make it difficult for the undocumented to seek help if they are abused in any way.
Out of fear of being reported and then deported, these immigrants may continue to expose themselves to danger by not seeking any legal action against their abusers.
Terra Slavin of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, a group that also works with LGBT immigrants, said she is seeing “a shift in a much broader enforcement priority that is not taking into account survivors of domestic violence.”
Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), victims of domestic violence who are also undocumented immigrants may qualify for U-visas, which allow victims to have access to work authorization and temporary legal status. While there's a limited number of such visas available per year, those who are waiting for a final decision are often able to avoid deportation.
Under current law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also barred from using information provided by abusers to detain or deport an undocumented victim, but if the immigrant seeking protection has been convicted of serious crimes, he or she is no longer shielded under VAWA.
In February, when the Trump administration released its implementation memos, Mother Jones notes, the documents stated that “the [DHS] no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement." This effectively annuls most of the last administration's immigration enforcement guidelines.
The nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, a group serving immigrant women and girls seeking protection from gender-based violence, appears to be the first organization to have noted that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly's new implementation guidelines invalidate an ICE guidance issued in 2011 protecting immigrant victims of domestic abuse.
The 2011 order said that “ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys should exercise all appropriate prosecutorial discretion to minimize any effect that immigration enforcement may have on the willingness and ability of victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs to call police and pursue justice."
The El Paso case might as well be the real-world example of how this guideline has been tossed aside, even after an ICE representative told Mother Jones that the 2011 protections are still in effect.
If ICE wants to make its stance on immigrants who are the victims of domestic abuse clear, they must try a little harder. After all, the El Paso case could be the beginning of a wave of abusers using immigration laws to ambush their victims.
Check out our video below, which explores how refugees and immigrants configure their place in Trump's America.