By Laura Paskus
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
It's not only the state of Arizona. Albuquerque, N. M., illustrates the kind of fears spawned among immigrant victims of domestic abuse when local police departments team up with federal immigration agents.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (WOMENSENEWS)--Arizona may have been grabbing national attention for its anti-immigrant legislation, but in this city of at least 61,000 recent immigrants, life is also fearful for those who might be mistaken for the undocumented.
Among women suffering from domestic violence, fears have been heightened since May when the Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers began sharing workspace with local law enforcement. Now, some targets of violence worry that seeking police protection could be the first step toward deportation.
At the end of April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement--commonly called ICE--had 287 agreements with 71 law enforcement agencies in 26 states. Under these programs the federal agency delegates immigration enforcement authority to local police departments.
In May, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry added to that tally when he announced that ICE will work alongside Albuquerque police at the city's new Prisoner Transport Center. Under the mayor's new guidelines, ICE agents will screen anyone passing through the center.
For Claudia Medina, executive director of Enlace Comunitario (which in English translates roughly to "community liaison"), a nonprofit for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, that's a troubling development.
"We have been getting assurances from the police chief that they won't call ICE on them if they are just calling to report a crime," said Medina. "But the immigrant community doesn't know that. They just know that ICE is housed with the police and there is a strong relationship there."
Medina says undocumented immigrant women who are victims of crimes often don't seek police assistance, because they fear the police are going to send them to ICE and they will be deported. Many also fear that if they report their abuser and he is undocumented, he will be deported and his income and financial support for their children will disappear, she says.
Because of victims' fear of police contact, Medina says it's often a neighbor, not a victim, who places the 911 call.
When police arrive, Medina says they often find a chaotic situation. "She is hysterical, crying, and he is too--you know, like screaming and yelling--and all of them are speaking Spanish. The police don't know what's going on, so they say, 'That's it, I'm taking you both.'"
Both the abuser and victim end up at the Prisoner Transport Center, where, under the new procedure, ICE will check the immigration status of both people.
In this scenario, a victim who should receive assistance, says Medina, could end up being detained and deported--in which case both parents would be separated from the children, who may be U.S. citizens.
Undocumented immigrants detained in New Mexico are sent to two different facilities along the border, and joined by those from Texas. The two facilities, one in El Paso and one in New Mexico, each have a capacity of 1,000. Since Albuquerque's procedure is so new, no one is sure how many additional deportations may be occurring under the new police-ICE partnership.
"It's a basic human right to be able to call for help when you are being victimized," said Medina. If a dog is being mistreated, she says, someone can call and an officer will remove the animal from danger. "Well, we're talking human beings here and they cannot even call for help. They cannot even get the basic right of being protected. And I think that's not fair."
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