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ICE Raids Cause Minority Women to Live in Fear
by Steve Pleich (spleich [at]
Saturday Jul 29th, 2017 9:12 AM
Law Enforcement Must Protect as Well as Serve
Given a second chance to do the right thing, three years ago Governor Brown signed into law the California Trust Act. The act requires that all counties in California follow this law which limits cruel and costly immigration "hold" requests in local jails. With TRUST, immigrant crime victims and witnesses should be able to come forward and cooperate with police without fear of deportation. As many of us who have been actively working for immigrant rights in our community know, any cooperation with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by our own sheriff, or even the perception of such cooperation, works to substantially abridge the right to Equal Protection under the law for members of our Latino/Latino community. But just as troubling is the effect the specter of cooperation can have on the long standing federal policy of protecting minority women from domestic violence.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is the major piece of federal legislation that that protects women, and particularly minority women, 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 continuing presence of ICE agents in our community and the suspicion, however tenuous, that local law enforcement is cooperating with this agency, frustrates the purpose of this legislation in two distinct ways.

First, it makes minority women generally distrustful of law enforcement. Secondly, 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. And this is precisely what happens every time a Latina member of our community fails to protect herself because she would rather suffer in silence than see her abuser detained by local law enforcement and possibly deported.

With a Latino/Latina community that comprises nearly 30% of our county’s 265,000 residents, fully half of whom are women, we are a community of immigrants and we are proud of our diversity. To be fair, Sheriff Jim Hart has been responsive to the continuous activism on the issue of immigrant rights. But as someone who is certified as a Domestic Violence Victims Advocate and has worked closely with groups such as the Walnut Avenue Family & Women's Center, I believe we need strong, unwavering and courageous leadership to protect minority women against this moral and social outrage that is sadly all too common in our community.

And so we come full circle to Equal Protection. It has always seemed to me that when the protection of the law is denied to anyone of us, it is denied to us all. The California Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law and equal access to its protections for all persons. That guarantee is not, and cannot, be based upon gender or skin color. Prevention of domestic violence in our county should be one of the highest priorities for local law enforcement. The Santa Cruz Police Department has been and continues to be a leader on this issue. I urge our sheriff to refrain from any policy of cooperation with ICE that would frustrate the stated purpose of VAWA. Let the Violence Against Women Act do its work.