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.
As in many cities, housing programs in Albuquerque for victims of domestic violence cannot help women without immigration papers; even homeless shelters will not accept undocumented immigrants.
Jessica Aranda, an Albuquerque native and activist for the rights of women and immigrants, echoes Medina's concerns about the new local ICE program's effect on immigrant women, an already vulnerable population.
"That's going to be a huge issue for immigrant women or women who have immigrants in their family, to feel like police are a resource when there is violence happening in their families," said Aranda. "That will definitely play into the whole dynamic of further disenfranchisement for women of color."
Albuquerque City Councilman Ken Sanchez was one of the city council members who tried to block police involvement with ICE. Their resolution failed and council members who backed it said they received hate e-mail.
Sanchez agrees with Aranda that someone who is already uncomfortable with the police might feel further threatened by the new procedure.
"That was a very big concern of mine when the mayor passed this legislation," said Sanchez. "He wants to make sure that we are keeping our community safe and keeping criminals off the street . . . Well, especially in a domestic-violence case, these women may be afraid to call 911, if they themselves or their children are being abused by a spouse."
He adds that if women fear deportation, they may not call for help. "That is one of the real concerns that I have with this legislation," he said. "The mayor has assured that that would not be the case."
At a recent city council meeting, Sanchez invited Albuquerque Police Department Chief Ray Schultz to the podium, asking him what will change with the new procedure. "He said, 'Nothing will change at all with APD,'" said Sanchez.
As a result of an earlier court challenge, beginning in 2007, the Albuquerque Police Department could not question someone's immigration status unless it was relevant to a criminal investigation or a person had already been arrested. "And the chief reaffirmed that to be the case," said Sanchez.
Schultz has repeatedly said that officers themselves would not be checking the immigration status of individuals and the mayor has claimed racial profiling will not occur--that everyone, regardless of nationality, race or language, will be screened.
The procedure isn't entirely new, says Jennifer Landau, an attorney with Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services. She points out that for a few years ICE officials have had a presence at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
"But they're casting a wider net now, because everyone that is arrested in Albuquerque is going to be screened and interviewed by ICE--before it was just at the local jail," she said.
Landau adds that Albuquerque isn't unique: "This isn't totally new, but it is a part of a national trend."
In April, Arizona Gov. Janet Brewer signed into law a state Senate bill requiring police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. It also makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.
Despite the federal government's opposition to the law--the Obama administration has sued, claiming the law is inconsistent with federal policy--more states are considering laws similar to that of Arizona.
Legislatures in five states have already introduced bills. In another 15, they're under discussion. And on a local level many police departments, like the one here, are cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security's ICE.
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Laura Paskus is an independent journalist working on a series of stories about vulnerable and exploited women in Albuquerque; that work that has been funded in part by an investigative research grant from the nonprofit Center for Civic Policy.
Albuquerque-based Enlace Comunitario:
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