Deportation Fears Keep Victims From Reporting Crimes

Ana endured the beatings for nine years. Her husband kept a baseball bat in the corner to remind her what he could do.

"He would hit me. Punch me in the face and kick me,” she said in an interview with NBC Boston and Telemundo Boston.

But she did not go to the police because of her immigration status.

Promises of stepped-up immigration enforcement at the federal level has led to immigrants refusing to report crimes, including domestic violence, to local police for fear of being deported, immigrants and their advocates said.

Local police chiefs urge victims of crime to come forward and try to assure immigrants that the local police departments are not interested in checking green card status.

"He would say that what happens between these four walls should stay within these four walls" said Ana, who asked to not use her real name out of fear that her husband will find her.

She is an undocumented immigrant who crossed the border illegally a decade ago.

“He would tell me that if I reported him, then I would get deported,” Ana said.

He would tell her that they'll take their children from her and send her back to her native country.

Advocates say there are a growing number of victims too scared to report domestic violence, particularly in the current political environment.

Hema Sarang-Sieminski, an immigration attorney with the Victim Rights Law Center, said the atmosphere is "paralyzing" for immigrants.

“People feel like those threats (of deportation) could actually come true,” she said.

A Texas case earlier this year sent chills through the immigrant community. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a woman for an immigration violation inside a courthouse just moments after she took out a restraining order against her partner.

"We were all very alarmed," Sarang-Sieminski said. "I mean this is sort of the worst case scenario. It really put all of us on alert to think about what protections actually exist."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that enforces federal immigration law, said in a statement that it does not conduct enforcement sweeps at certain locations.

"Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances," Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said in an email to NBC Boston.

However, he added, "courthouses are not considered sensitive locations," but that they detain people there "only after investigating officers have exhausted other options."

Thirty members of Congress—including three from Massachusetts—have called on ICE to clarify their position on approaching crime victims at courthouses on immigration issues.

Framingham Police Chief Ken Ferguson says ICE has not tried to get his department to step up immigration enforcement, but he struggles to reassure his diverse community.

"Has there been a push? Not from where I sit, no," he said.

He said undocumented immigrants worry they’ll be deported if they get caught driving without a license. Or if they talk to police about a crime, they’ll check their status and turn them over to ICE.

"Concern, fear. People are afraid," he said.

Ferguson said Framingham police are "not concerned about (immigration) status."

"No one should be afraid of the Framingham police that doesn’t have an issue with the law," he said.

But the effect is real. Framingham police have seen a 14 percent drop in domestic violence reports over last year.

Ironically, Ana never interacted with police in her town until her husband called police on her, accusing her of abuse, she said. 

"It’s such a common tactic," Sarang-Sieminski said.

Ana and her children told police their story and they helped her file a restraining order against her husband. They now live elsewhere, but still are still afraid and in the shadows.

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