Homeland Security Law Called Hazardous for Victims

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Secure Communities is the name of an expanding federal immigration program to deport convicts living in the U.S. illegally. Immigrant advocates say it's undermining a federal law that protects crime victims from having to reveal their citizenship status.

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Instilling Fear in Victims

Sarahi Uribe, a policy coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of three groups that jointly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents, says the program is already instilling fear in undocumented violence victims and that they are "being swept up in the mix" of detentions across the country.

She pointed to one high-profile case in Maryland, in which Maria Bolanos, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, called the police during an altercation with her partner. The responding police officer saw phone cards on a table inside her house and charged her with illegally selling them to a neighbor. The charges were eventually dropped, but Bolanos was reported to ICE and is still facing deportation orders.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a pro-bono legal aid society in Durham, N.C., where Secure Communities is already in place, has represented 16 detained women, all survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence, since May 2010, according to paralegal Rebecca Fontaine.

Safe Horizons would not have the capacity to represent women who are held in detention, says Neugebaeur, given the size of her four-person supporting staff. But her colleague, Michael Polenberg, vice president of Safe Horizon's government affairs section, added that they expect a decrease in their clients altogether.

"It's common for the batterer to say, 'If you try to report me, I will report you' and you will get detained and taken away from your children," Polenberg said. "But for hundreds, if not thousands, of women hearing that from their batters, that will now be technically correct. And with the fear this will instill in victims, we can imagine that we won't even be seeing these people anymore."


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Amy Lieberman is a correspondent at the United Nations headquarters and a freelance writer in New York City.

For more information:

Secure Communities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

"Newly Released Secure Communities Documents Signal Opening for Local Opt-Out," Uncover The Truth Campaign:

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