In New York City, we know that immigrants are an essential part of what makes our city great. In fact, nearly 40 percent of our city’s population is foreign born, and an estimated one million New Yorkers live in a household with at least one undocumented family member.
Sadly, not all of our federal policymakers recognize the importance of our immigrant communities and the work we must do locally for our criminal justice system to work. Over the past three years, the Trump Administration has increased immigration enforcement and ramped up anti-immigrant rhetoric. And this week, in his State of the Union Address, President Trump continued to exploit tragedies and frame immigrants as a danger to our country.
This racialized rhetoric is unacceptable as it prevents survivors of crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and more from getting the help they need to begin to heal. It’s heart-breaking and especially frustrating that this language is often cloaked in public safety, even as it puts some of the most vulnerable members of our city at greater risk. We know firsthand that many immigrants are in danger themselves.
The NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs works with local communities to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, have the confidence and security they need to access due process and seek safety and protection. Even with that work, Safe Horizon, a New York City nonprofit and the nation’s largest victim’s services agency, regularly sees foreign-born clients at its Immigration Law Project who remained in abusive situations because anti-immigrant rhetoric made them fear the very systems that are designed to help them.
Here’s one sad example.
Cheryl (name changed to protect identity) came to Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project because her husband had been regularly abusing her, using the threat of deportation to control her.
“Joe (name changed) would demand to have sex with me, and then force me to, even after I told him no. He would also threaten to call immigration on me to deport me. Joe knew that I was completely dependent on him. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even have keys to the house. He kept them from me to control when I could and couldn’t leave. I was too frightened to report his threats and abuse because I truly believed I could be deported.”
Thankfully, Cheryl was able to connect with Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project to get the support she needed to get out of an abusive relationship.
We know many other victims who are immigrants don’t get the help they need because of fear. A recent survey by Ceres Policy Research found that 60 percent of the immigrants they surveyed avoided attending court when they had been a victim of crime. And 40 percent of domestic violence victims surveyed reported skipping a domestic-violence related hearing.
When victims feel unsafe going to court, reporting a crime and even seeking out help from nonprofits like Safe Horizon, they suffer and those who caused harm aren’t held accountable.
That’s why standing up against broad, anti-immigrant rhetoric is important: We want survivors to know that they can seek out help without fear instead of feeling like they have to choose between abuse and deportation.
Furthermore, all of our communities are safer when those who experience crime and abuse can come forward, instead of feeling trapped in the shadows.
We have seen the very real consequence of the Trump Administration’s callous policies that wholly disregard the devastating impact on our children and neighbors when families are separated, due process is denied, or protections like asylum and U visas for crime victims are undermined.
ICE’s rhetoric and practices that demonize our immigrant communities does nothing to increase the very trust we depend on to ensure accountability and justice for survivors of violence.
Reasoned policies that seek to bridge trust with all immigrants and separate fears of immigration enforcement from local criminal justice make immigrant survivors and our communities safer. Increasing T-Visas and U-Visas makes immigrant survivors and our communities safer. And building a culture of trust – not one that chills cooperation with law enforcement – makes immigrant survivors and our communities as a whole safer.
Bitta Mostofi is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Bitta previously served as Senior Attorney in Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project.
Ariel Zwang is the CEO of Safe Horizon.
If you have been a victim of domestic or gender-based violence, call 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) for immediate safety planning, shelter assistance, and other resources—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TTY: 1-866-604-5350. You can also visit any New York City Family Justice Center get free and confidential help, including safety planning, counseling, and criminal justice, civil legal, and social services—all in one location. All centers are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No appointment is needed. Visit nyc.gov/NYCHOPE to find a Family Justice Center and other local community resources convenient to you.