Experts Believe Arizona Immigration Law Will Harm Domestic Abuse Victims

by Cara on July 6, 2010

in courts, human rights, immigration, law enforcement, legislation, misogyny, patriarchy, race and racism, violence against women and girls

By now, most of you have probably heard of SB 1070 — the abhorrent Arizona immigration law that is soon to take effect. For those who haven’t heard of the law or who need a refresher, SB 1070 not only has the effect of legalizing racial profiling, it requires it of police. Once in effect, police will be required to demand proof that those they have stopped for other reasons are in the country legally, whenever “reasonable suspicion” of undocumented status is aroused. If one cannot prove that they are in the country legally, police also have the authority under SB 1070 to arrest hir for “trespassing” — i.e. being in the country.

As few white folks are likely to arouse such “reasonable suspicion” in a border state where the law was designed to deal with the influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, it has rightly inspired great outrage and fear in much of the Latina/o community. I’m of the opinion that anti-immigrant laws are virtually always racist, but SB 1070 is particularly and astonishingly blatant in its intentions, even if many of its supporters refuse to acknowledge as much. While not technically going into effect until July 29, it has already had a chilling effect on many communities and activists.

Today, the Justice Department sued Arizona over the law. To that I say “thank god,” and while I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that the basis for the suit has nothing to do with human rights and racial profiling, I wish them all the best of luck, and sincerely and desperately hope that they manage to prevent enforcement from beginning.

But the Justice Department’s suit isn’t the only one challenging the law, and it’s not the one that I want to write about today. Last week, the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which represents 35 shelters and other organizations, joined a multifaceted lawsuit from the ACLU. The lawsuit includes documents from over 80 other groups across the country.

The brief, filed by Los Angeles law firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, claims SB 1070 “will cause immigrants to refrain from seeking federally established protections” and also “undermines the ability of domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and other victim-services providers to bring crime victims to court, to meetings with prosecutors, and to the hospital for treatments of critical injuries.”

The latter claim is based on the section of SB 1070 that makes it illegal to knowingly harbor illegal immigrants.

Supporters of the law argue that SB 1070 allows law enforcement broad discretion to protect crime victims who may be illegal immigrants.

As state Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, wrote in The Arizona Republic, “No questioning is required when it would ‘hinder or obstruct an investigation.’ Crime victims and witnesses would never be questioned because questioning is limited only to those who have violated some law.”

Under federal law, domestic-violence victims who are illegal immigrants may qualify for two types of visas, the “T visa” and the “U visa,” for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.

According to the legal brief in support of the ACLU lawsuit, “Under SB 1070 an immigrant crime victim will have no incentive to, and in fact will be afraid to, reach out to law enforcement for federally guaranteed crime victim social services in Arizona, for fear of detention, separation from her children, and removal.”

The problem with state Sen. Huppenthal’s claim that “Crime victims and witnesses would never be questioned” under SB 1070 is that people like him who support the law, and indeed the language of the law itself, makes absolutely no distinction between “criminals” and “victims” when it pertains to undocumented immigrants. According to nativist anti-immigrant folks, all undocumented immigrants are criminals — criminals who should be immediately jailed and deported — simply by being in the country. By being on our super special, stolen U.S. soil, a criminal is all that one can be, no matter what hir extraordinary virtues.

The column quoted above — already clear in its bias with its insistence on using the term “illegal immigrant,” though this is true of virtually all mainstream media — goes on to perfectly display this attitude, that there is no difference between victim and criminal, and that victims should always be considered both.

Still, I asked her how she would respond to supporters of SB 1070 who might say, “If these women didn’t come here illegally in the first place, they wouldn’t be so vulnerable to abuse.”

“I would say that a very small percentage of these women and children cross the border willingly,” Leiby said. “They were trafficked here and brought by their husbands or significant others. The abuse was started there and was brought here, and in this state the abuser has even more power over them.”

Thank god, E.J. Montini, that you were there to ask that question. If not for you, who else would blame victims for their own abuse and insinuate just how much they had it coming? This, my good readers, is what we call muckraking at its finest.

As for Leiby’s answer? Well, let me say first of all that I’m sure she’s doing the best she can with racists to convince and a victim-hating columnist to respond to. But while I have no doubt whatsoever that some women are indeed brought into the U.S. by their husbands against their will — and of course, many others are brought in by career traffickers — I am, I will say, skeptical of the claim that only “a very small percentage” of women undocumented immigrants entered the country willingly. I think a claim like that needs a whole lot of backing up, and here that evidence is not provided. Further, women need to feed themselves and their families just like men do. And I find it rather unlikely that crossing the border is a decidedly male way to do it.

But I think that even if Leiby’s claim was true, her answer concedes far too much — namely, the idea that women who cross the border without documentation only have themselves to blame for domestic abuse. It concedes that women who enter the U.S. illegally do have it coming. That they don’t deserve services. And that if SB 1070 does harm them, that’s just too bad, and they should have thought about that before setting their feet on our land.

To suggest that women make themselves vulnerable to domestic abuse, rather than abusers and the society that props up abusers with bullshit like this, is misogynistic. To suggest that only certain women, those non-white, non-U.S. women who enter the country without some special, really expensive papers, make themselves vulnerable to abuse is racist. To say “It’s not my business or responsibility what happens to them, because they crossed a line I drew in the sand after taking it from the people originally standing on it” is additionally xenophobic and colonialist. The whole thing is just the most repulsive, sickening display of outright hatred and dehumanization that I’ve seen in a while.

And so to Montini’s question, I say not that most victims didn’t enter the U.S. of their own free will and are therefore innocent, but that even if every single one of them happily skipped across the border while thumbing their noses at the Constitution and wearing a burning U.S. flag on their backs, they don’t deserve violence, not any violence, and that includes in their own homes. Suggesting that how they entered the country — it should go without saying, none of them as dramatically imagined above — determines whether or not they deserve to be beaten, whether or not they deserve to have access to safety, and whether or not their abusers should be held responsible for their violence, is cruel. It is ugly. It is inhumane, it is racist, it is misogynistic, it is victim-blaming, and it is the reason why so many women continue to live in terror. That “suggestions” like that one are made is the perfect example of why the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s worries that victims will not feel safe coming forward under SB 1070 are entirely well-founded.

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