SAN FRANCISCO, CA— Maria Hernandez, who came to the United States from Mexico in the early ‘90s, was afraid to report her domestic abuser. But it wasn’t just her abuser’s “control” over her, she says — she feared involving the police because of her immigration status.
“I lived for ten years in a situation of abuse,” she says through a translator. “I saw on TV when women would denounce something that was happening to them or would call the police, they would end up arrested.”
Hernandez, now an activist with Mujeres Unidas y Activas (United and Active Women), is speaking out against a new federal deportation program known as PEP (the Priority Enforcement Program), in which local law enforcement cooperates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport undocumented immigrants being held in custody.
“[My kids] could have lost their mother,” says Hernandez. She says that undocumented immigrants who are experiencing or witnessing domestic violence should be able to feel safe reporting it because “the police are there to protect us, not to put us in deportation proceedings.”
Hernandez and other activists are urging the city of San Francisco to not participate in the PEP program, which they say would further isolate immigrant survivors of domestic violence.
They’re also supporting an ordinance introduced by District 9 Supervisor David Campos, a package of measures known as “Solutions, Not Scapegoating,” that in part opposes city participation in the PEP program (in addition to introducing measures preventing the theft of guns from off-duty public safety officers).
“We need the city and all of its departments to support women seeking life and their own protection,” said Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, at a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall organized by the Oakland-based advocacy organization Causa Justa (Just Cause). “We support the resolution to reject PEP. We want to remove ICE as a barrier for any woman in our city to come forward to be free and to be safe.”
Another domestic violence survivor, activist Cecilia Chavez of Community United Against Violence, said through a translator that her partner abused her “emotionally, physically, and sexually.” When she finally called the police, she says, they “arrested both [me and my partner] simply because I didn’t have an ID.”
The PEP program has been criticized by advocates for having the same problems as its predecessor, the controversial Secure Communities program, which was eliminated as part of President Obama’s executive action on immigration last November.
Hyejin Shim, an advocate for domestic violence survivors with the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, says that the logic of PEP is that “criminal records are accurate indicators of which people are good or bad.”
The slogan of “felons, not families,” which has been used by President Obama and the White House when talking about immigration reform, “creates a false dichotomy for survivors in which having a criminal record must mean that you cannot be a victim and that you are not a person with dignity and humanity,” says Shim.
“For undocumented survivors, the threat of detention, deportation, and permanent separation from one’s children can only compound existing patterns of abuse and control,” she continues. “When ICE and law enforcement become further entangled, survivor’s fears and the barriers to help only grow.”