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A released Central American woman and children wait at a Greyhound bus station in Texas. (Photo: Jeff Pearcy/Unitarian Universalist Service Committee)

Donald Trump’s War on Immigrant Women

Amanda Baran

 by The Hill

Earlier this month, immigration authorities arrested a domestic violence victim in an El Paso courthouse after she obtained a protection order.  Reports indicate the victim, a transgender woman, was arrested after authorities received a tip, possibly from the abuser, about her immigration status.  

If true, this violates federal laws designed to protect immigrant victims’ confidentiality and ICE guidance meant to protect these victims.  It also represents a dangerous shift in our immigration policy that puts the lives of our nation’s immigrant women at risk and underscores the fact that in Donald Trump’s America, no immigrant is safe, not even those who need our protection.  

The effects of Trump’s immigration executive orders on communities have been widely reported. Chaos has reigned at airports across the country and around the globe, threatening fragile relationships with Muslim and Arab communities. Immigration authorities have effectively raided our nation’s cities, arresting immigrants even outside church shelters

This latest example at the Texas courthouse underscores the devastating effect these orders are having on communities, and in particular, on women.

Among their many directives, the orders roll back the Obama administration’s approach to prioritizing for enforcement individuals who are public safety and national security threats.  

DHS implementation memos make crystal clear that virtually any undocumented immigrant is a priority for removal and resurrect two failed enforcement programs, Secure Communities and the 287(g) Task Force Model, which enlist local state and law enforcement to join in ICE’s enforcement efforts.

Immigrant victims of violence do not trust law enforcement.  Some studies indicate that immigrant victims are afraid to call the police or access shelter, courts, or other resources for fear of being deported.  Abusers often threaten their victims with deportation in order to further the cycle of abuse, power, and control, making it even scarier for individuals to seek help or protection.  

In a world where all immigrants are priorities for removal and state and local law enforcement are expanding partnerships with ICE, these victims will be even less likely to seek protection, for themselves or their children.  Stories of victims being picked up at courthouses or other safe spaces will increase this chilling effect, and in particular, transgender women of color, may be more reticent to access services because of fear of the institutionalized transphobia that exists within the justice system.

Undocumented women are the lifeblood of our workforce. Many of these women provide care and other services that make our lives comfortable.  

Undocumented women take care of our children, harvest our crops, and look after our aging parents. These jobs are difficult, pay low wages, and workers are often left vulnerable to exploitation, some staying trapped in situations where wages are withheld or where they endure abusive work relationships because they are threatened with deportation.  

In fact, a study published by the National Domestic Workers Alliance found that 85 percent of undocumented domestic workers who faced problems with their working conditions did not complain because they feared their immigration status would be used against them.  

The new enforcement paradigm set forth by the Trump administration will exacerbate this problem and drive immigrant women workers further underground.

Since the advent of the executive orders, undocumented mothers, many who have been here for decades, are facing the very real possibility that they will be swept up in the new administration’s indiscriminate net of enforcement.  

Earlier this month, ICE deported Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an undocumented immigrant who was convicted in 2008 for using a false Social Security number. Since her conviction, Guadalupe had been raising her two U.S. citizen children and checking in faithfully with ICE, complying with all their requirements.  At her last meeting with ICE, she was detained and deported within 24 hours, simply because under the Trump executive order she was now an enforcement priority.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 4.1 million U.S. citizen children live in “mixed-status” families — households where at least one parent is undocumented.  

Thus millions of children, like Guadalupe’s, are facing a future without a mother.  And mothers are facing the prospect of being ripped from their children’s lives. The long-term impacts of this interruption of the mother-child relationship will be felt for generations.

Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders purport to make our communities safer.  But how are we safer when a child-care provider fears reporting an abusive employer to authorities?  How are we safer when a mother is separated from her children?  How are we safer when a victim of violence is more afraid to seek services and protection than to remain in an abusive situation?  

The truth is, we are not. If abusers are not held accountable for their actions and families are separated, all our communities suffer.  And if all our communities suffer, our nation is that much poorer for it.

© 2021 The Hill

Amanda Baran

Amanda Baran is the former Principal Director of Immigration Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, where she co-founded the Department’s Council on Combating Violence Against Women.

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