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The Trust Act, Secure Communities and the Violence Against Women Act
Secure Communities Program Forces Minority Women to Live in Fear
Given a second chance to do the right thing, Governor Brown recently signed into law the California Trust Act which establishes entirely new protocols for the Secure Communities Program as it is currently operating in Santa Cruz County. As many of us who have been actively working for a significant revision of Secure Communities believe, cooperation with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by our own sheriff has worked to substantially abridge the right to Equal Protection under the law for many in our Latino/Latina community. And just as troubling is the effect this program has had on a stated public policy to protect minority women from domestic violence.
I have spoken out on many occasions about the profound effect Secure Communities has on the reporting of domestic violence among Latinas. The Violence Against Woman Act (VAWA) is the major piece of federal legislation that that protects women, and particularly minority woman, against domestic violence. Every two years VAWA must be reauthorized by Congress and every reauthorization has strengthened the protections against retaliation for reporting incidents of domestic violence. Yet, the Secure Communities Program runs counter to and frustrates the purpose of this legislation in two distinct ways. First, it makes minority women generally distrustful of law enforcement. Second, it makes minority women reluctant to report incidents of domestic violence for fear that their spouse or significant other will be subject to not only arrest, but deportation.
But just as problematic is the fact that Secure Communities is not federal law; it is a federal program and as such law enforcement is free to exercise its discretion with respect to the scope of individual agency participation. The idea that the operation of a federal program could be elevated over the enforcement of a federal law seems ludicrous on its face. Yet that is precisely what is happening in our county every time a minority women fails to protect herself because she would rather suffer in silence than see her abuser detained by “la migra” and possibly deported.
With a Latino/Latina community that comprises nearly 30% of our 260,000 residents, fully half of whom are women, we are a community of immigrants who are proud of our diversity. To be fair, Sheriff Phil Wowack has been responsive to the vocal and continuous activism on this issue. But as someone who is certified by the State of California as a Domestic Violence Victims Advocate and has worked closely in the past with groups such as the Walnut Avenue Women's Center, I can tell you that lip service is not enough. We need strong, courageous leadership to protect minority women against this social outrage.
And so we come full circle to the issue of Equal Protection. It has always seemed to me that when access to justice is denied to anyone of us, it is denied to us all. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees equal protection under the law and equal access to it for all persons in our county. That guarantee is not, and cannot, be based upon gender or skin color. Prevention of domestic violence in our county should be one of law enforcement's highest priorities. I urge our sheriff to refuse to permit Secure Communities to frustrate that policy.
Let the Violence Against Women Act do its work.