How Domestic Abusers Can Use Federal Agents

February 16th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A controversial case of an undocumented immigrant in Texas shows how domestic abusers could use federal agents as a tool for control.


After receiving a tip, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a woman at the El Paso County Courthouse on Feb. 9, while she was reportedly getting a protective order against an alleged domestic abuser. She was driven to the the court by an advocate from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, according to The Washington Post. However, the agents already had custody of the man this order was against, and the El Paso Times reported that he may have tipped them off to the Mexican woman's immigration status and her whereabouts.

The woman has a past criminal record, but no current warrant for arrest, the Post reported. ICE did not respond for comment at time of publication.

U.S. Mexico Border

Officials say an arrest like this is uncommon in El Paso, because officials want domestic abuse victims to feel safe reporting abuse.

“It really was a stunning event,” El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told The Washington Post. “It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in our community.” The headline-grabbing arrest comes after President Donald Trump's controversial immigration executive orders and immigration raids.

Kiersten Stewart, the policy director for Futures Without Violence said in a statement sent to ATTN: that there are federal laws that should protect women from an incident like the one in El Paso. The Violence Against Women Act (initially passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005) was signed again in 2013 by President Barack Obama. It provides protections for marginalized groups of women, including immigrants.

"This brutal action could wipe away decades of progress we’ve made in getting immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence to feel safe coming forward," she said. "The Violence Against Women Act includes language prohibiting this kind of enforcement, specifically because we know how abusers will use immigration status as a tool of control and abuse."

Abusers can use the threat of deportation to control their partners.


Monica McLaughlin, the deputy director of public policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said that undocumented survivors of domestic violence are often in a particularly vulnerable situation. She said that her organization hears reports from undocumented survivors that abusers threaten them with deportation.

"When you look at the power dynamic, it would be easy for a perpetrator to threaten or actually use immigration authorities," she said to ATTN.


McLaughlin said undocumented domestic abuse survivors can apply for a U visa if they cooperate with law enforcement to prosecute another crime. Congress created the U visa in 2000 when it passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which also included the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act.

"The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes, while also protecting victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the crime, and are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity," according to the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services website. "The legislation also helps law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of crimes."

McLaughlin said that the government needs to provide places for undocumented survivors of domestic abuse to report the crime without fear of deportation.

"If you're in this country illegally and you're here with a batterer, your control is very limited in your own life," she said. "Think about what that means in terms of being able to establish your own independence. They have the deck stacked against them."

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