Activists warn that crimes will go unreported and witnesses will refuse to testify over fears that interaction with police could lead to removal from the country
by Tom Dart
Evidence is mounting that undocumented immigrants are increasingly wary of reporting crimes or testifying in court, for fear that they could be detained and deported, according to law enforcement officials and advocates.
Since Donald Trump signed an executive order prioritizing most undocumented immigrants for deportation, activists and local police have warned that crimes will go unreported and witnesses will refuse to testify over fears that any interaction with law enforcement could be a prelude to removal from the country.
“Sadly, it appears that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] aggressive tactics, including arresting people at courthouses, are having a chilling effect. The result is that more victims will remain in the shadows and more immigrants will be vulnerable to abuse. No person should fear that reporting a crime or going to court will put them at risk of deportation,” said Michael Kaufman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Sexual assault reports from Hispanic people in Los Angeles have dropped by a quarter this year compared with the same period in 2016 and reports of domestic violence are down by almost 10 percent, the city police chief, Charlie Beck, said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Beck added that other ethnic groups did not see such glaring decreases. “Imagine, a young woman, imagine your daughter, your sister, your mother … not reporting a sexual assault, because they are afraid that their family will be torn apart,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Cecelia Friedman Levin, senior policy counsel for Asista, an immigrant justice group, said that criminals are using the crackdown to intimidate witnesses.
“Abusers commonly threaten victims that reaching out for help will result in their removal or separation from their children,” she said.
“Before the executive orders on immigration, the advice advocates would commonly give is that the police are here to help, that there are policies in place that protect all victims. But now, depending on the jurisdiction, those advocates may pause before giving that same advice, especially if they’re seeing increased immigration raids in their communities and given the wide breadth of enforcement priorities laid out by the Administration.”
The Los Angeles police department said in a statement: “While there is no direct evidence that the decline is related to concerns within the Hispanic community regarding immigration, the department believes deportation fears may be preventing Hispanic members of the community from reporting when they are victimized.”
Such fears are not restricted to California. Many women’s rights activists were disturbed by the arrest by immigration agents of an undocumented woman last month at a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, immediately after she sought a protective order against an abusive ex-partner.
El Paso county attorney Jo Anne Bernal said her office had observed a 12 percent decrease in people seeking protective orders since the woman’s case went public last month. She said she could not say for certain if a drop in undocumented cases contributed to the decline, but noted that the numbers were unusual.
“It’s alarming to me,” she said, adding that there were three immediate examples of victims seeking to withdraw cases due to immigration fears. “It is really heartbreaking.”
Bernal said it was particularly painful when parents were afraid to testify to secure protective orders for their children who have faced abuse.
In one recent case involving a 16-year-old US citizen and sexual assault victim with undocumented parents, she said: “They were faced with a horrible choice of trying to protect their child through obtaining a protective order or face deportation and be in a situation where they couldn’t protect their child.”
Indications that domestic violence cases have been hampered or dropped because victims or witnesses are reluctant to cooperate with authorities have surfaced in cities including Austin, San Antonio and Denver, where fears of deportation caused charges to be dismissed in four cases.
Kristin Bronson, the Denver city attorney, said last month that several victims had declared themselves unwilling to testify because of their migration status.
“They were undocumented and, as a result of recent developments, they were unwilling to continue with the cases,” she told Denver7 local news.
“We have four alleged perpetrators of domestic violence who are back out on the streets without any kind of punishment, and that concerns us greatly as we try to keep Denver a safe and welcoming community.”
Immigration agents are not allowed to enter private residences uninvited without a warrant, but court schedules provide them with reasonable certainty of their target’s whereabouts at a given time.
A criminal complaint in the El Paso case suggests that ICE officials knew the woman was staying at a shelter for people who have suffered family violence but decided the best location to arrest her would be at the courthouse.
The woman remains incarcerated today, said Bernal. The county attorney also noted that it was “very common” for abusers to threaten to report their undocumented victims to immigration officials, which some believe was the cause of the woman’s arrest.
“It’s just one more way in which the abuser will try to continue to control and isolate victims of domestic violence.”
An ICE spokeswoman described the Los Angeles police chief’s comments as “entirely speculative and irresponsible” and said that the agency works to raise awareness of visas that may be available to victims of certain crimes and takes into account whether someone is the victim of, or witness to, a significant crime when weighing how to proceed.
“The inference by Los Angeles officials that the agency’s execution of its mission is undermining public safety is outrageous and wrongheaded,” Virginia Kice added in a statement.
“In fact, the greater threat to public safety is local law enforcement’s continuing unwillingness to honour immigration detainers. Rather than transferring convicted criminal aliens to ICE custody as requested, agencies, including the Los Angeles police department, are routinely releasing these offenders back on to the street to potentially reoffend, and their victims are often other members of the immigrant community.”
Trump has taken aim at so-called sanctuary cities such as Los Angeles – places that limit interactions between local police and federal immigration authorities – by planning to withhold federal funds.
At Trump’s instruction, ICE on Monday released its first “weekly declined detailer outcome report”, a list aimed at putting pressure on sanctuary cities by detailing local authorities that did not comply with federal requests to hold foreign suspects for Ice pick-up.
But some departments are concerned that blurring the boundaries between immigration enforcers and city cops weakens community confidence.
Last month, Los Angeles officials including the mayor, Eric Garcetti, wrote to Ice agents to request that they not represent themselves as “police” on the basis that it could erode public trust in the local department, which “does not initiate police action with the objective of determining a person’s immigration status.”
Sam Levin contributed reporting. This article is from the source ‘the guardian’ and was first published or seen on March 23, 2017.