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Separation Ordinances Protect Battered Immigrant Women


Domestic violence continues to be a devastating problem in Minnesota. A 2002 survey showed that domestic violence victims in Minnesota accounted for 26% of all violent crime victims.(1)

While there are no statistics in Minnesota that domestic violence rates are higher in immigrant communities, immigrant women are particularly vulnerable to abuse and less likely to access and receive government protection and services.

The Advocates for Human Rights recently documented the obstacles that battered immigrant women in the Twin Cities face in accessing protection and government services. Based on information obtained from more than 150 interviews with prosecutors, police, shelter advocates, and immigrant women, The Government Response to Domestic Violence Against Refugee and Immigrant Women in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Area: A Human Rights Report(2) includes findings specifically related to fear of immigration enforcement.

These findings include:

  • Immigrant victims are less likely to find safety for themselves and their children and accountability for their abusers. 
  • Immigrant victims are often extremely isolated and shamed about violence in their families.
  • Fearing that information will be shared with immigration authorities, victims not only fail to report domestic violence but also are reluctant to seek medical or legal assistance.
  • Immigrant victims often fear that they or their husbands will be deported if they contact authorities. Abusers may have threatened immigrant victims that they or their children will be deported if they report assaults.
  • Criminal justice officials play a critical role in supporting victims who break this silence and come forward to report crimes. A recent survey showed that 81% of domestic violence victims in Minnesota did not report one or more incidents of violence to law enforcement.(3) Minnesota law prohibits domestic violence, and the community relies on criminal justice authorities to send a clear message that domestic violence will not be tolerated. Enforcement of criminal laws prohibiting violence must be the top priority of criminal justice officials – not the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Separation Ordinances passed in Minneapolis (2003) and St. Paul (2004) clarify that public safety officials may not question a person about immigration status, nor question, arrest or detain any person for violations of federal civil immigration laws except when immigration status is an element of the crime. Such ordinances partially alleviate the fear that immigrant crime victims have of law enforcement due to perceived cooperation with immigration officials. State prohibition of such ordinances as proposed in H.F. 2576 would have an acute impact on battered women in immigrant and refugee communities. Immigrant communities need communication and outreach by police and criminal justice authorities to fight violent crime and build the trust required to achieve safe and peaceful communities.

Sources

  1. Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs. “Safe at Home: 2002 Minnesota Crime Survey.” December 2003. Available at: http://www.dps.state.mn.us/ojp/cj/publications/crimesurveys/2002_Safe_at_Home.pdf
  2. For the entire report, see www.mnadvocates.org/Women_s_Program.html.
  3. Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs. “Safe at Home: 2002 Minnesota Crime Survey.” December 2003. Available at: http://www.dps.state.mn.us/ojp/cj/publications/crimesurveys/2002_Safe_at_Home.pdf