On Thursday, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and Transgender Law Center denounced the arrest by immigration authorities of an undocumented transgender woman who is a survivor of domestic violence, and call for her immediate release.
She was detained last week in an El Paso courthouse immediately after she was granted a protective order against her abusive partner.
NCAVP’s data shows that transgender women experience high rates of domestic violence and often experience discrimination and violence when attempting to access services. Additionally, transgender women in immigration detention often experience sexual violence, maltreatment, and other forms of violence.
Because of these realities, this arrest and detainment is an utterly deplorable and harmful response to her request for help.
This January, Transgender Law Center launched an emergency response project, the Trans Immigrant Defense Effort (TIDE), devoted to expanding legal support for transgender immigrants in the face of new attacks.
“Our government’s actions send the message to transgender people that we are disposable and do not deserve dignity or safety,” said Isa Noyola, Director of Programs at Transgender Law Center. “The community already has limited access to resources when we face violent attacks, particularly by intimate partners. At a time when we grieve murder after murder of transgender women of color, it is unconscionable that a transgender woman would be detained and punished for seeking safety for herself. The community, now more than ever, needs to organize to protect our most vulnerable, in particular transgender immigrant women who are surrounded by violence on a daily basis.”
“Arresting survivors when they are accessing domestic violence protections will only continue to discourage survivors from reaching out for support, especially if they are undocumented,” said Emily Waters, Senior Manager of National Research and Policy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “All survivors, including undocumented transgender survivors, deserve to be able access safe and affirming resources without the additional fear of reprisal by abusive partners and criminalization by state authorities.”
Violation of Protections for Undocumented Survivors
According to the County Attorney, Jo Anne Bernal, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers received a tip that the woman who was detained would be in the courthouse that day. Bernal also stated that she was arrested while still in the courthouse.
Bernal suspects that the tip came from Gonzalez’s abusive partner. Both of these actions by ICE violate the confidentiality protections laid out in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. VAWA provides explicit confidentiality protections for undocumented survivors, including preventing immigration officers from using information provided by abusive partners and preventing officers from making arrests in courthouses if the survivor is there in connection with a protection order case.
“The actions taken by ICE officials to detain a transgender immigrant while she was at the courthouse getting a restraining order against her abuser, based on a “tip” to ICE possibly from her abuser, are not only outrageous, they violate the law,” said Terra Russell Slavin, Esq., Deputy Director of Policy & Community Building at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
“The Violence Against Women Act contains specific prohibitions on these type of immigration enforcement actions. The LGBT community, its advocates, and domestic violence activists throughout the country will work tirelessly to ensure that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are able to take legal actions to protect themselves from their abusers. We call on our representatives to immediately investigate the actions of ICE officials in this case and to do everything in their power to ensure this travesty doesn’t happen again.”
VAWA protections are vital for the safety of undocumented survivors of domestic violence. Many undocumented survivors face the threat of deportation when accessing protections that are available to all survivors of domestic violence and this threat is often leveraged by abusive partners.
Domestic Violence and LGBTQ Communities
According to the most recently released report by NCAVP, of the 13 documented intimate partner violence related homicides of LGBTQ people in 2015, 46% were transgender women, all of whom were transgender women of color.
From 2014 to 2015, there was an increase in the percentage of LGBTQ undocumented survivors reporting to NCAVP from 4% to 9%.
Many LGBTQ survivors experience violence and discrimination when accessing intimate partner violence resources. Of those seeking shelter in 2015, 44% were denied with the most common reason being gender identity. Nearly one in three survivors who interacted by police were arrested.
To read NCAVP’s toolkit for the LGBTQ and HIV Affected Intimate Partner Violence, click HERE.